STEM—an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math—related programs have become a key conversation in the White House. In the next two years, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 1.2 million jobs will open in the field. But the number of qualified degree-holders is predicted to fall below that number, reports the Department of Homeland Security.
Amidst this growth, do the old gender stereotypes still ring true? Are there women in STEM positions? Are women socially or culturally trained to be disinterested in these fields? Or, are they pursuing STEM jobs? More importantly, are STEM employers hiring them?
Nikki Sullivan, Director of Continual Improvement at General Kinematics, was first drawn to a career in the STEM field, because of her interest in aeronautical design: fighter jets and yacht racing. She was also interested in foreign affairs and foreign languages, but, ultimately, science won:
“STEM careers are deeply tied to creativity and problem-solving, which makes them more fun and rewarding than careers that involve delivering the same information, product, or service repeatedly—without actively engaging the brain. It is hard to automate something as dynamic as science,” said Sullivan.
Throughout her professional growth, Sullivan has sought the advice of several female mentors, of which, none highlight the fact that they are women as being a variable in their careers. “My female mentors are extraordinarily good at their jobs, and they don’t require recognition for ‘being a woman,’ in doing so,” she said and adds that she feels empowered at her job with full trust from her employers. Now, she’s seeing more females entering the field:
“When I attended college, I was the only woman in my engineering classes. At each of my engineering positions, I was the first woman the company had hired, and each of them hired more after,” said Sullivan.
Furthermore, Sullivan questions whether the statistics regarding the gender pay gap are valid or skewed. “In general, women do not make less money than our male counterparts, nor are we less likely to be promoted—this was a truth in the past, but much has happened to convert even the most stalwart macho business owner to a believer in hiring and promoting women. This is a victim mentality trap. People should question the validity of published statistics: Are they really comparing the same job, the same years of service, and the same responsibilities?” If anyone wants to earn more pay or a promotion, everyone has to earn it in the same way, Sullivan added.
Looking at the nation’s numbers, it is true that women are still under-represented in STEM fields. While women made up 57.1 percent of all professional workers in 2013, they only comprised 46.1 percent of science professionals, 26.1 percent of computer and math professionals and 14.1 percent of engineering and architecture professionals, according to the Department for Professional Employees (DPE).
Gender aside, here’s a piece of the big picture: according to the DPE, the size of STEM unemployment has not been able to bounce back to the line it had prior to the recession. Comparing between specific STEM fields, the employment growth is very diverse. From 2003-2013, employment of computer programmers declined by 13.1 percent. The employment of electrical and electronics engineers decreased by 17.4 percent. And the employment aerospace engineers grew by 75.6 percent—an interesting note, since women only occupy 11 percent of workers in that career. If a particular field is expanding and experiencing growth, should it be proactively trying to level out the gender gap?
To the initial question on the STEM gender disparity, author Denis Cummins argues, no—women are more involved than what most people believe. The research psychologist and author covered the issue in an article for PBS, in April 2015, called “Why the STEM gender gap is overblown.” Cummins points out that the gender gap is not present in every single STEM-related field when we take a look at the percentage of men and women that have earned bachelor’s degrees in STEM-related fields. The article points to reported numbers from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics:
Between 1991 and 2010, the percentage of females that earned a Psychology degree stayed relatively consistent, a whopping 70 to 80 percent of the total. Women have also outnumbered men in biosciences, and in social sciences, since 2000. In fields that dip below the halfway mark, women occupy close to 40 percent of the careers in mathematics and physical sciences. And beginning in 2000, the number of women in engineering declined, slightly, from 20 to about 18 percent. Similarly, the number of women in computer sciences dropped from 28 percent to 19 percent.
When we take a magnifying glass to those broad professional fields, the percentage of males and females in specific STEM professions varies greatly. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 the percentage of women in computer and mathematical occupations lowered slightly, to only one-fourth of the total. More specifically, for example, females make up:
Women did reach a high of 53 percent of statisticians.
That above list includes just a few of the jobs within the umbrella. Lower yet, the portion of females in architecture and engineering occupations is only 15 percent. Within that realm, women occupy:
Despite statistics that reflect a decline of women in mechanical engineering, the dip may be relatively nominal: 20 to 18 percent—and that may swing back up, soon. It’s essential to consider qualitative evidence, too.
Erica Mills, Application Sales Engineer at General Kinematics Corporation, was inspired to enter the STEM field by her mom, a mechanical engineer. While Mills feels empowered at her job, she notes that the gender disparity motivates her even more. “Women are required to prove themselves; that they are capable of working in a male-dominated field. This empowers me to go above and beyond and show anybody who thought otherwise,” said Mills.
Similarly, Carol Hurley, Applications Engineer at General Kinematics, was inspired to pursue a career in STEM because her dad was an engineer. Now, a portion of what she does is designing machines for the food packaging industry, like machines that mechanically close aluminum or make zippered plastic bags. She’s also designed machines that assemble hand tools. Hurley has needed to pave her own way without a mentor, because, when she started college, mechanical engineering was just not a position commonly filled by women.
Hurley, Mills and Sullivan are proof positive that women are fit for the job, passionate about the work, and receiving fair treatment. And each of them separately discussed the fact that they are seeing women on the rise in STEM fields.
If any women are thinking of a STEM career, go for it, said Hurley: “If this is something that you desire, don’t let anything stop you. The job is very fulfilling.”
If you’d like to learn more about the awesome ladies that dedicate their days to General Kinematics, contact GK today!