STEM Has More Jobs and Higher Salaries – But STEM Majors are Mostly Men
Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on June 10, 2015 at 2:57 pm
STEM jobs are expected to account for the lion’s share of employment in the decade to come. However, scores of girls and women aren’t pursuing degrees in those areas, putting them at a disadvantage as they begin to enter the workforce. Thankfully, though, there’s a lot to be done before initial interest wanes.
Thanks to the proliferation of the Internet and advances in computers and mobile devices, technology skills will be a must-have requirement for the majority of jobs in the next decade.
Yet women, who tend to have higher graduation rates in college than their male counterparts, aren’t pursuing as many degrees in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That means their earnings potential will diminish as technology plays a greater role in the employment market in the years to come.
“At every level, from high school all the way through even the most capable young women have interests in other types of majors,” says Nicole Smith, the senior economist at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “Their majors are usually not STEM majors.”
Social norms partly to blame
It’s not like females are born with a lack of interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In fact, according to the National Science Foundation, 66 percent of fourth grade girls are interested in studying and pursuing a STEM degree. However, only 18 percent of all college engineering majors are female.
The reasons for this waning interest varies. For starters, many girls grow up in social settings where they are encouraged to pursue jobs traditionally held by women, such as teaching or nursing. Not to mention, many schools across the country don’t make things like computer programming a requirement. Many female students also want to pursue professions that make an impact on their community or world, and don’t view STEM as the way to do it.
Regardless of why girls aren’t pursuing STEM degrees, there are a host of ways to spark an interest before it’s too late. Encouragement on the part of families can help turn children onto STEM careers, but experts say the most effective strategies will have to be introduced on the school level.
“The world is changing so quickly, and as parents, we are so busy taking on the responsibility to cultivate an interest outside of school,” says Monica Eaton-Cardone, founder and CIO of Global Risk Technologies. “Where it needs to happen is at school.”
Computer programming needs to be a requirement, not an elective
According to Eaton-Cardone, that doesn’t mean schools across the nation need to reinvent the wheel. Simply taking a page from schools outside the U.S. that make STEM subjects a requirement, similar to how music and art is here, can go a long way in sparking female students’ interest in STEM.
Take China as an example. According to Eaton-Cardone, in that country, women are toe-to-toe with men when it comes to STEM degrees. One of the reasons is that girls are required to study math, and are exposed to science, technology and engineering on a regular basis. In many schools in the U.S., however, computer programming and other STEM classes are electives – not requirements. “Taking an engineering class or learning how to develop a computer program, you will discover women have just as much interest,” says Eaton-Cardone. “You have to give them the opportunity to expose the talent they have.”
Mentorships proving to be impactful
In addition to placing a greater emphasis on STEM subjects in elementary, middle school and high school, experts say that mentorships can be a great way to get girls interested in STEM. After all, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics, although women hold close to half of all jobs in the U.S., they account for less than 25 percent of STEM jobs – even though women with STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than women in non-STEM jobs. Because females are so underrepresented in STEM, it’s hard for young girls to envision themselves in these fields. That’s where mentorships come in. “It lets them see the possibilities, and opens up an avenue for young women they might not know about,” says Smith of the Center on Education and the Workforce.
Mentorship programs focused on girls and STEM can be found across the country, some government-funded and others coming out of the private sector. US2020 is a mentorship program with a goal of matching 1 million STEM mentors with students from kindergarten through college by the year 2020. Girlstart is another program focused on increasing girls’ interest and engagement in STEM through informal STEM programs and mentorships. Million Women Mentors is a mentorship program aiming to create one million science, technology, engineer and math mentors as a way to increase interest and confidence among girls and women. Million Women Mentors has partnered with 58 companies to try and reach that goal.
STEM needs to be taught in a hands-on way
While there are efforts underway around the country to engage girls in STEM fields, experts say how STEM is taught can play huge role in shattering misconceptions about science and math, and in turn get more girls interested in these disciplines. “A lot of the programs that have had success focus on being hands on and allowing girls to manipulate tools and instruments,” says Brenda Britsch, senior research scientist and co-principal investigator at the National Girls Collaborative Project, which is focused on encouraging girls to pursue STEM careers. It’s also important for girls to understand that even if it’s hard, that doesn’t mean they have to give up on their dream of having a STEM career. “Girls have to know its okay to struggle in science,” says Britsch. “It’s really about trying things and, if it doesn’t work, trying it again. A lot of our education system is about getting the right answer, and with science, it’s about how you learn.”