A Guide for Women in STEM
Research shows that women are underrepresented across most technical and scientific fields, including data science. According to BetterBuys.com, women only make up 26% of data professionals. Diversity is important across all academic and professional fields, and it is particularly important in areas that drive innovation and are developing solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems. Research also shows that in order to increase the diversity science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, the pipeline of guidance and inclusion needs to extend from early education all the way through professional development and career support .
This guide is intended to provide a general background and specific resources for women considering STEM fields. In this guide we provide information regarding:
- Issues and challenges women face in STEM Fields
- How companies are recruiting more women to fill positions in these fields
- Resources for those women interested in pursuing a career in STEM
- Data Science specific resources for women considering a career as a data scientist
- How campuses and programs are making an effort to foster a welcoming environment for females to succeed in the STEM fields.
Challenges of Women in the STEM Fields
Research is underway exploring the various reasons for the continued existence of this gender disparity in STEM fields. The disconnect between girls and STEM-related career paths happens before college. In fact, 74% of middle school girls express an interest in STEM topics and careers, but only 0.4% of high school girls end up choosing computer science for a college major.
Biases Still Exist
A 2014 study found that both men and women were twice as likely to hire a man for a job that required math. It is understandable that women may feel discouraged from pursuing a STEM career especially when the following issues are evident:
- Lack of mentors and senior-level female leadership
- Lack of acceptance from coworkers and supervisors
- Sexual harassment in the work place
- “Old Boy’s Club” mentality that is hard to break through.
- The lack of support creates a mentality of not belonging leading to feelings of insecurity.
Few women pursue a STEM career. Roughly 12 percent of undergraduate women are STEM majors. And graduation marks the beginning of having to assert themselves in fields dominated by men. Research suggests that women are simply not competing with their male or female counterparts. In a 2014 survey, three-fourths of the women scientists surveyed reported that women in their work environments supported each other. However in the same survey,one fifth of the female scientists stated “I feel as though I am competing with my female colleagues for the ‘woman’s spot.’” This illustrates another common cause of conflict among women in organizations that are predominantly male. Harvard conducted a one-year study on the gender gap in its computer science program. The researchers found that even with computers now commonly found in households, 67% of the women in the program said they had less than one year of programming experience, compared to 41% of their male counterparts who said the same. The study also found that women with eight years of programming experience are as confident in their skills as their male peers with zero to one year of programming experience. Internalized stereotypes can cause women to feel they don’t have the “right” knowledge or skill set for success in the field. Another challenge that women face in technical fields is the expectation that they act according to gender roles. More than a third (34.1%) of scientists surveyed reported feeling pressure to play a traditionally feminine role, with Asian Americans (40.9%) more likely than other groups of women to report this. About half of the scientists surveyed (53.0%) reported backlash for displaying stereotypically “masculine” behaviors, such as speaking their minds directly or being decisive. Black and Latina women are particularly at risk for being seen as angry when they fail to conform to these restrictive norms.
Disparity in Pay
Researchers at Columbia Business School found that women suffer from discrimination in the workplace, and are less likely to be selected for new positions. Their study found both men and women were twice as likely to hire a male applicant rather than a female applicant. A report found that 55 percent of women in technology begin in lower-paying, entry-level positions, compared to 39 percent of men. Many STEM industries have the lowest representation of women and the highest pay. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), women are twice as likely to quit their job than men in the high technology industry (41% to 17%). Research also shows that women are four times more likely than men to feel like they have fewer opportunities in the workplace. It was also found that 49% of the women who left their job remained in the industry. In fact, 22% of these women went on to create their own company. The NCWIT data shows that the amount of women in computing occupations has steadily declined since 1991, when it peaked at 36%. According to Girls Who Code, although 57% of bachelor’s degrees are earned by women, only 12% of them are in computer science. Of the women who left their Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) position, it is reported by the NCWIT that 51% abandoned their training all together.
Why YOU Should Pursue a STEM Career
More than ever, STEM careers are booming. Engineering is the highest average salary in the first year in any field. Computer science, math, and science majors followed engineering with an average salary of $61,000 and $55,000 respectively. Other majors on average earn less than $40,000 in their first year in the professional field. There is a strong correlation between gender diversity in STEM fields and company earnings. Especially in technology companies where women hold leadership positions. Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, reported in his article, Let’s Get Real About Supporting Women in Tech, that technology companies led by women have an average of a 35% higher return on capital than those led by men. Further studies show that technology companies with female founders perform 63% better than ones with founding teams completely composed of men. More than ever before, companies are recruiting women for STEM positions. Having diversity in the workplace especially in has lead to better outcomes in the following ways: 1. Increased adaptability – Organizations employing a diverse workforce can supply a greater variety of solutions to problems in service, sourcing, and allocation of resources. Employees from diverse backgrounds bring individual talents and experiences in suggesting ideas that are flexible in adapting to fluctuating markets and customer demands. 2. Broader service range – A diverse collection of skills and experiences (e.g. languages, cultural understanding) allows a company to provide service to customers on a global basis. 3. Variety of viewpoints – A diverse workforce that feels comfortable communicating varying points of view provides a larger pool of ideas and experiences. The organization can draw from that pool to meet business strategy needs and the needs of customers more effectively. 4. More effective execution -Companies that encourage diversity in the workplace inspire all of their employees to perform to their highest ability. Company-wide strategies can then be executed; resulting in higher productivity, profit, and return on investment. Women are now leaving companies to start their own venture and start ups. A great example of this is Leah Busque, founder of Taskrabbit. Leah graduated Sweet Briar College in 2001, with a major in mathematics and computer science. She was was worked for IBM as a software engineer for seven years and left to found Taskrabbit in 2008; which became a successful multi-million dollar company. Women continue to change the landscape of the STEM fields become industry leaders.
Types of Degrees in STEM
Engineering Computer engineering Information technology Software engineering Mathematical sciences Biological science Data science Chemistry Statistics Physics Environmental sciences
Types of Careers in STEM
Application software developers Market research analysts Computer programmers Mechanical engineers Industrial engineering technicians Civil engineers Electrical engineers Family practitioners Architectural and engineering managers Computer user support specialists Cost estimators Scientists Economists Chemists Data scientists Statisticians
What Can YOU do to Encourage a Girl to Pursue a STEM Career?
The more exposure to science and technology, the better. Start engaging girls in elementary and middle school so that they will be prepared for high school science and math, experience success, and be more likely to pursue those subjects in college. There are many schools and programs created to attract girls to STEM early on. Take advantage.
- Conduct research on what opportunities are available.
- Explore what your community/clubs have to offer.
- Encourage attending a summer college outreach program.
In other words, introduce girls to STEM activities and support their passion. Break the mold of gender expectations.
Pre-College Programs for Women in STEM
CURIE Academy is a one-week summer residential program for high school girls who excel in math and science. The focus is on juniors and seniors who may not have had prior opportunities to explore engineering, but want to learn more about the many opportunities in engineering in an interactive atmosphere. G.R.A.D.E. CAMP is a week-long day program designed specifically for entering 8th to 12th grade girls who want to find out what engineering is all about through “hands-on” experience. G.R.A.D.E. CAMP emphasizes career exposure rather than career choice, so you can come just to experience something new. Girlgeneering’s goal of a girls-only camp is to increase the interest of high ability young women in a career in engineering by combating stereotypes, creating connections, reducing the issue of competition for resources with boys, and demonstrating the real-world social impact of engineering. This one-week day camp will introduce middle school young women to the field of engineering by showing how engineering is connected to personal issues, social concerns, and community interests. It’s a Girl Thing is a residential camp for girls. The goals are to provide girls with strong role models and dispel myths and misconceptions about science and careers in science. Campers experience university life, hands-on classes and recreational activities. In the past we have offered classes ranging from Nano Energy to Animal Science. Smith Summer Science and Engineering Program (SSEP) is a four-week residential program for exceptional young women with strong interests in science, engineering and medicine. Each July, select high school students from across the country and abroad come to Smith College to do hands-on research with Smith faculty in the life and physical sciences and in engineering. Survey the World of Engineering – is a one-week day camp that will allow you to develop your creativity as well as provide you with the opportunity to meet and speak with working engineers. For part of the camp, you will work on campus with different engineering departments, learning and completing hands-on projects to better understand the breadth and variety of different engineering fields. For the remainder of the camp, you will visit various corporate engineering plants such as General Electric, Procter & Gamble, and Northrop Grumman Xetron to meet professional engineers and see their work in action.
There are many organizations on campus that support women in the STEM fields. When researching different colleges and universities see if they have some on campus clubs, organizations or campus support that can help a women student succeed in the STEM fields.
University of Pittsburgh: Pitt SWE (Society of Women Engineers)
Pitt SWE is an organization that provides women in STEM with a network and community of other women in STEM. The organization provides professional development opportunities for its members as well as outreach programs for youth surrounding the Pittsburgh area. Pitt SWE’s main goal is to encourage women to pursue a career in STEM, and it wants them to feel supported throughout that journey. The outreach programs teach young girls about engineering in a fun, interactive way, and in a way that makes them feel able and empowered. SWE has given me a network of women across all disciplines of engineering. “But it is also touching to me to see the impact we make on younger minds. Seeing girls learning, engaging, and interested in engineering – seeing the future of engineering – is all the motivation I need to overcome any adversity I might face in the field. Pitt SWE also has a mentorship program designed to give freshman girls an upperclassmen mentor that can give direction and advice about majors, classes, college life, etc. I have gained really good friendships through this program, as well as through some of our social events that we have sprinkled throughout the year.” (Heather Ampler, 2017)
University of Connecticut – Women in STEM Mentoring Program
The goal of the Women in STEM mentoring program is to develop a resource-rich community to academically and personally support women pursuing undergraduate educations in STEM fields at the University of Connecticut. It operates on three network tiers: 1) one-on-one to establish the personal relationship between mentor and mentee(s), 2) program wide to engage participants in collective critical thinking and resource exchange, and 3) program-community to connect and share our work with the local community. “As a mentor and now as a coordinator, I’m continuously inspired by the achievements and pursuits of the women in this program. A foundation of solidarity and support pervades our program; a community that is really necessary for young women in STEM fields to feel like they can access. “(Aiden Ford, 2017)
Scholarships for Women in STEM
Admiral Grace Murray Hopper Scholarship– $1,500 Alpha Omega Epsilon Scholarships– Up to $1,000 American Association of University Women Fellowships– $5,000 to $18,000 APS/IBM Research Internship for Undergraduate Women Clare Boothe Luce Program Scholarships Department of Homeland Security Internships– $6,000- $7,000 Girl Scout Scholarships-$1,000 Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship M. Hildred Blewett Fellowship-$45,000 Mary Gunther Memorial Scholarship– $,3,000 Michigan Council of Women in Technology– $15,000-$20,000 Prospective 7-12 Secondary Teacher Coursework Scholarships– Up to $10,000 Society of Automotive Engineers Women Engineers Scholarship– $2,000 SWSIS Scholarships The Lou Henry Hoover Girl Scout Scholarship– $2,000 The Priscilla Carney Jones Scholarship-$1,500 The Schafer Prize The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology– $750-$1,000 Women Divers Hall of Fame– UP to $1,000 Women in Technology Scholarship (WITS)
Women in Data Science (WiDS) Conference Women in Machine Learning and Data Science (WiMLDS) Harvard’s Women in Computer Science (WiCS) Advocacy Council Girls Who Code Women in Big Data Progressive Women’s Leadership. MentorNet Women in STEM Knowledge Center Made with Code AnitaB.org Association of Women in Science (AWIS) Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) Committee on Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine (CWSEM) The American Association of University Women Million Women Mentors National Girls Education Project Girls Go Techbridge American Association of University Women (AAUW) Association for Women in Computing Association for Women in Mathematics KSU Women in Data Science Upcoming Events: Women in Industry Conference – March 20, 2021 – Galveston Texas
Heather Ambler, Secretary of Society of Women Engineers, University of Pittsburgh. Heather is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) studying Environmental Engineering. She is mainly involved with the Pitt section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), but is also an active member in Pitt’s chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World. Aiden Ford, Coordinator of Women in STEM mentoring program, University of Connecticut. Aiden is a senior at the University of Connecticut majoring in Physiology and Neurodevelopment and Neurodevelopment and Health and coordinates the Women in STEM Mentoring Program through the UConn Women’s Center. On campus she is the president of TEDxUConn, an undergraduate researcher in the Fitch Lab, and a member of the Pre-Medical Society’s executive board.
Heather Ambler, Secretary of Society of Women Engineers, University of Pittsburgh. How did you get involved in Engineering? What lead to your passion? (Was there a teacher, relative, role model who inspired you to go into Engineering?) I had always loved science and enjoyed math, so I decided to pursue engineering. My older sister actually encouraged me to go into engineering. I saw her as an extremely smart and hardworking person, and I wanted to be like her. She chose to pursue engineering for the endless possibilities the field provides, so I decided to take her advice, found what interested me and related it to engineering, which is how I ended up choosing to study environmental engineering. Do you think it is hard being a female pursuing a degree in STEM? I think it is all about your perspective. Whenever I am confident in my ability to perform a task, calculation, etc, I do not let any gender stereotypes get in the way of me excelling. I have had classes where I was the only girl, and I didn’t feel unwelcome or out of place. I more-so accepted it and did my best to not act any differently as I would if the class had more females. I think if you are confident in your identity as both a student and a person, being in the minority does not have to negatively affect your outlook on your experience. Please tell me about the Pitt SWE organization. How has the organization helped and supported you? Pitt SWE is an organization that provides women in STEM with a network and community of other women in STEM. The organization provides professional development opportunities for its members as well as outreach programs for youth surrounding the Pittsburgh area. Pitt SWE’s main goal is to encourage women to pursue a career in STEM, and it wants them to feel supported throughout that journey. The outreach programs teach young girls about engineering in a fun, interactive way, and in a way that makes them feel able and empowered. SWE has given me a network of women across all disciplines of engineering. But it is also touching to me to see the impact we make on younger minds. Seeing girls learning, engaging, and interested in engineering – seeing the future of engineering – is all the motivation I need to overcome any adversity I might face in the field. Pitt SWE also has a mentorship program designed to give freshman girls an upperclassmen mentor that can give direction and advice about majors, classes, college life, etc. I have gained really good friendships through this program, as well as through some of our social events that we have sprinkled throughout the year. Have you had additional challenges/obstacles because you are a woman studying in a predominately male field? How did you overcome those adversaries? There were a few times when being a female did, in a way, hinder my experience in school. I once worked in a group of 5 on a term-long project, three guys and two girls. My female group member and I sensed a great deal of disrespect and lack of faith in our ability to produce good results for the project. We were pushed aside a lot of the times and could sense the distrust in our performances. In presentations, we would get talked over or our points would be disregarded. To me it was frustrating, but I just continued to produce good work regardless of their thoughts. Towards the end of the term, I did gain more say on decisions and more respect since they eventually realized that I was a good student and an asset to their team. Do you see a more upward trend of female students entering STEM fields or having STEM Majors? Definitely. Now that I have switched to Environmental Engineering (originally civil), almost all of my classes are about half female. In civil, there were a lot fewer, but I still do see an incline. Fewer and fewer classes with only one girl or no girls at all. What type of help or resources would you recommend to young women who are interested in going into any of the STEM fields? I of course recommend joining SWE, especially if you are going into engineering. In your collegiate section of SWE, there will be someone there that can give you advice on almost anything you have questions about since they were once in your shoes. Other STEM majors of course still benefit from SWE’s professional development and social aspects. I would also recommend not being afraid to seek help with your schoolwork. Utilizing your TA’s or professor’s office hours would be the best thing you can do. Do not let yourself be confused about the material. Seek help as soon as it gets too muddy (STEM classes are hard; it’s not uncommon to have difficulty and get confused). It doesn’t show weakness to get help, it shows that you have the strength to admit you are having trouble and you want to do something about it. What are your plans after graduating? What is the dream job? I am bold enough to say that I don’t really have plans for post-graduation. Ideally, I’d like to get a job, but I haven’t had enough work experience for me to know what the “dream job” is. I hope to get more experience and eventually find my niche. So, I guess my plan after graduating would be to find my dream job. I think it’s okay that I don’t know yet. That’s what life is for. Aiden Ford, Coordinator of Women in STEM mentoring program, University of Connecticut. Tell me a little about yourself. My name is Aiden Ford, I’m a senior at the University of Connecticut majoring in Physiology and Neurodevelopment and Neurodevelopment and Health and I coordinate the Women in STEM Mentoring Program through the UConn Women’s Center. On campus I’m the president of TEDxUConn, an undergraduate researcher in the Fitch Lab, and a member of the Pre-Medical Society’s executive board. How did you get involved in Women’s Center? How did you get involved in your current major? What lead to your passion? Was there a teacher, relative, role model who inspired you to go into that field? I was a mentor in the WiSTEM program last year, and became really invested in the mission of the program. When the position of program coordinator opened up, I jumped at the chance to be more involved in program development. Working as an employee in the Women’s Center has been a wonderful experience on top of my role as coordinator. I am fascinated by the factors and mechanisms that shape the developing brain and I’m committed to working in children’s health, so I initially enrolled at UConn as a physiology and neurobiology major. However, I soon realized that I also wanted an education in the social determinants of health, so I designed my second major to provide that perspective. I’ve had many teachers and mentors, in high school and especially here at UConn, who have inspired me to pursue my goals. Rather than direct me to a particular field, they are all determined and ambitious individuals who both led by example and encouraged me to develop my interests and passions. Do you think it is hard being a female pursuing a degree in STEM? There isn’t a simple answer to this question because every woman has a variety of different experiences and identities that shape how she pursues her own career. Studies and personal stories both show us that STEM is still a male-dominated field both in terms of numbers and cultural climate, which can make it challenging to for young women to accomplish their goals, in that sense, yes. There are many factors, both subtle and obvious, that influence the opportunities we can choose, how high we set our ambitions, etc. These include the pressures to balance a home and professional life, sexist and racist biases in the different levels and facets of the profession, lack of representation or resources to help confidence building. What type of help or resources would you recommend to young women who are interested in going into any of the STEM fields? My recommendations would be to make connections with other women – those in your field, those you admire; peers, graduate students, mothers/aunts, professors, professionals, etc. Build relationships with mentors who encourage you to take risks, challenge your opinions and understanding of things, and support you through difficult decisions or confusion. Also, take time for self-care. Recognize when stress is hurting you and don’t hesitate to take a step back or reach out to support systems. If your campus or community doesn’t have the resources you need, find them online – there are so many amazing stories of successful and determined women or opportunities to contact people. Know you are not alone as you pursue your passions! What are your plans after graduating? What is the dream job? I hope to continue my studies in social cognitive development and earn a dual MPH/PhD with the ultimate goal of working for an institution that promotes the well-being of children through systemic change on state-wide or national levels.