“On this International Day, I urge commitment to end bias, greater investments in science, technology, engineering and math education for all women and girls as well as opportunities for their careers and longer-term professional advancement so that all can benefit from their ground-breaking future contributions.” — UN Secretary-General António Guterres
Three years ago, the UN proclaimed February 11 the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This new designation was part of a larger effort toward closing gender gaps around the globe, as outline in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Though more women are pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), it is clear that gender gaps in these fields—and harmful biases– persist today.
Highlighted below are charts and commentary from Brookings experts on the state of gender equity in STEM fields, and the obstacles that women and girls still face.
U.S. WOMEN EARN MORE COLLEGE DEGREES THAN MEN OVERALL, BUT EARN A MINORITY OF UNDERGRADUATE DEGREES ISSUED IN STEM FIELDS
In their study of gender disparities in education and employment, Ana Maria Munoz-Boudet and Ana Revenga, two experts from the World Bank, found that gender gaps in STEM fields are common around the world. According to the authors, in 2013 only four countries in Europe produced a pool of STEM graduates that were at least 15 percent female. In the United States, despite women earning more degrees than men overall, they account for only 35 percent of the undergraduate degrees issued in STEM fields.
Munoz-Boudet and Revenga also note that in some areas, gender gaps in STEM fields are actually broadening. Between 2004 and 2014, the proportion of women earning engineering or computer science degrees in the United States fell.
STEM FIELD FACULTY REMAINS PREDOMINANTLY MALE
Gender gaps in academia are also apparent at the faculty level. In a post for the Brown Center on Education Policy, University of Missouri Professor Cory Koedel and Diyi Li examined data from over 40 public universities to explore diversity and wage gaps among the faculty. They found that women only account for 18.1-31.1 percent of faculty in STEM fields, but as much as 47.1-53.2 percent of faculty in non-STEM fields.
More research from the Brown Center illustrates how gender harassment and hostility in academia are keeping women from ascending the ranks in fields like economics.
WOMEN ARE UNDERREPRESENTED THROUGHOUT THE INNOVATION PIPELINE
Recognizing that woman are still underrepresented in STEM fields, experts from the Hamilton Project at Brookings explored what effect that has on patenting and innovation. Women earn 57 percent of all four-year degrees, but only 35 percent of STEM bachelor’s degrees. Following degree completion, they account for just 22 percent of the STEM workforce, and are responsible for only 16 percent of granted patents.
WOMEN REMAIN UNDERREPRESENTED IN THE MOST COMMON DIGITAL AND TECH JOBS
Finally, in their study of occupational data and digitalization in the American workforce, experts from the Metropolitan Policy Program found a “mixed and sometimes surprising view” of male and female workers’ digital skills and employment. Data show that women are now slightly ahead of men as a whole when it comes to developing the digital skills increasingly essential for employment, but remain grossly underrepresented in some of the most common tech jobs such as computer programming and information systems management.
The word [a North Korean defector] used [to describe the women in South Korea] meant tough, almost obnoxious. He said it was radically different from women of the North, who are so traditional. [Even in the North, however, t]heir husband’s income is just not enough. [E]xpectations of a good life are rising [among the elite] and for the lower middle class, they work because their husband[s] have lost their factory jobs. The production system is so antiquated [that] many women come and participate [in the workforce].