Over the past several years there has been more and more focus on education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, often referred to as STEM. It’s no surprise why STEM is important. It’s hard to imagine our lives without technology (Smartphones, we’re looking at you!). STEM fields also span from actuarial science and biomedical engineering to architecture and forensic science, with lots of diversity in between. 

One reason that STEM has grown in importance is the increased need for workers within STEM fields. From May 2009 to 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs in STEM occupations grew by 10.5% compared with 5.2% growth in non-STEM jobs. During the 10-year period from 2014 to 2024, the two STEM fields with the highest expected number of jobs added are computer occupations (with expected additional jobs of nearly 500,000) and engineering (with an expected additional 65,000 jobs).

With a continued need for STEM education to support an expanding STEM job market, it’s an important opportunity for women to close both the education and employment gaps that still exist within the workforce as a whole, and the STEM field. 

According to the 2018 Science & Engineering Indicators report by the National Science Board, women have earned the majority of all bachelor’s degrees since the late 1990s, and even about half of all science and engineering bachelor’s degrees, but men still earn most of the degrees in engineering, computer sciences, mathematics and statistics, and physics. Women earn most of the degrees in the biological, agricultural, and social sciences and in psychology. Women are already making some strides, as the percentage of master’s degrees in most major science and engineering fields has gone up since 2000.

When it comes to women’s participation in STEM occupations, women tend to concentrate in different fields than men. For example, women have a higher proportion in social sciences (60%) and life sciences (48%) and lower proportions in engineering (15%), physical sciences (28%), and computer and mathematical sciences (26%). 

There are important signs that women are making strides within the STEM fields in the workforce. It is interesting to note that in broad science and engineering fields, except computer and mathematical sciences, women are younger than men, which demonstrates growing proportions of women in science and engineering fields. Also, the number of women working in the life sciences, computer and mathematical sciences, and social sciences has had strong growth. In fact, among life scientists, the number of women nearly tripled, and among social scientists, the number of women more than doubled between 1993 and 2015.

With the already important role of STEM in our personal, economic, and cultural landscape, as well as its continued growth, it is good news that women appear to be participating in science and engineering fields in an ever increasing capacity. In the future the contributions of women in STEM fields will hopefully grow and provide even more opportunities for women.

Sources: “2018 Science & Engineering Indicators.” National Science Board, 2018. Fayer, Stella, et al. “STEM Occupations: Past, Present, And Future.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Spotlight on Statistics, 2017.

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