The Deep Roots of the STEM Gender Gap

The Deep Roots of the STEM Gender Gap
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Careers in science, technology, engineering and math — more commonly referred to as STEM — are widely believed to provide greater job security and career opportunities. While federal investment in STEM research and development has declined in recent years, tens of billions of dollars have been poured into education and training programs aimed at bolstering the STEM workforce and the nation’s competitive standing in the world.

Historically, however, STEM industries have had a gender representation problem — with women and minorities significantly underrepresented. In response, federal and state governments have invested in diversifying the workforce, attempting to open doors for women and minority groups. According to the National Science Foundation’s 2020 State of US Science and Engineering Report, some progress has been made in this area. From 2003 to 2017, the number of women working in science and engineering (S&E) nearly doubled, growing from 1.3 to two million with increases noted across all S&E occupational categories. Despite these improvements, the share of women as a percentage of all S&E employment increased by just three percent, rising from 26 percent in 2003 to 29 percent in 2017. Recent research attributes the continuing gap to both explicit and implicit factors that discourage female participation in the sector.

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