The gender gap, especially as it pertains to salaries, is almost always in the news.
In spite of some popular outlets claiming it’s a myth, in 2017, a full-time female employee made 80.5% of what a male worker made in the same industry. STEM fields are some of the fastest growing sectors in the world, but they also have the greatest disparity between the sexes.
Why is there so much gender inequality in STEM fields, and what can employers do to change it?
According to data collected by UIS, less than 30% of women are working in STEM or related careers, though they make up 47% of the global workforce. They only hold 18% of computer science degrees and 19% of degrees in physics and engineering, though women do have the majority of bachelor’s degrees in social and biological science and psychology.
This is a dramatic drop from the norm when considering women hold 57% of bachelor’s degrees across all other fields. There are hundreds of studies that have looked into why there is such a disparity between men and women in STEM fields, but very few solutions.
Marketing professionals begin applying gender stereotypes at a young age. They market chemistry kits and Legos to boys, and kitchen playsets and Barbies to girls, setting them up to believe there is a limited number of things they can or will be allowed to do when they grow up.
These stereotypes are training girls to be housewives and boys to be innovators and thinkers.
Teachers reinforce these stereotypes when children get to school. Girls are encouraged to shift their focus toward more traditionally female-dominated careers, while boys are told they can do anything they want, as long as they do their homework.
Girls are told to focus on their looks while boys are encouraged to try out for sports teams. Girls are told to leave science and math to the boys, although studies show they match or outperform them on STEM classwork.
Societal gender stereotypes are setting girls up to fail from a young age. Even those that are showing interest in STEM fields end up quitting because society is so adept at undermining their confidence. They don’t believe they can succeed in STEM, so they don’t.
These stereotypes continue to grow once girls graduate from high school and college and try to make their way in the working world.
Instead of coming from teachers and parents, the negativity comes from employers and peers. Having their work constantly undermined or unappreciated discourages these young women from trying to succeed.
These stereotypes are one of the reasons there is a massive amount of gender inequality in STEM fields, but it’s not the only reason.
The Problem of Culture
Some new studies are showing that gender equality — on a broad scale — may actually be part of the problem. The more empowered women are, especially in developed countries, the fewer of them choose STEM.
In the United States, where women are considered equal to men, even if they’re not paid the same, only 27% of students who take the AP computer science exam are female. In addition, they only hold 18% of computer science degrees.
On the other side of the coin is Algeria, a country where employment discrimination runs rampant against women, and they have fewer rights. Here, 41% of STEM college graduates are female.
Several reasons could account for this discrepancy.
Some experts theorize that for women in countries where they aren’t empowered, a STEM degree is the quickest path to financial independence.
Others think it might be because girls in developed countries like the United States have so many other options because they may excel in reading or verbal skills rather than science or mathematics.
Ending Gender Inequality in STEM
Ending gender inequality in STEM isn’t something that is going to happen quickly or easily.
The stereotypes and cultural obstacles are so deeply ingrained in their respective societies that it will take time and effort to reverse them.
The most important thing to do is start now, by encouraging girls and young women to pursue their passions, no matter where those might lead.