Even if more young women are studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the number of women actually in STEM jobs is on the decline, a new report by the American Association of University of Women finds. Only 12 out of 100 computer scientists are women, the report reveals.
The AAUW report titled “Solving the Equation: The Variables for Women’s Success in Engineering and Computing” explains that the number of women in computing has taken a nosedive from 35 percent in 1990 to only 26 percent today. More specifically:
“… the numbers are especially low for Hispanic, African American, and American Indian women. Black women make up 1 percent of the engineering workforce and 3 percent of the computing workforce, while Hispanic women hold just 1 percent of jobs in each field. American Indian and Alaska Native women make up just a fraction of a percent of each workforce“, according to the report.
The sharp drop in the number of women entering computer fields is explained in an article on the Harvard Business Review by Joan C. Williams. Williams, Katherine W. Phillips, and Erika V. Hall in a qualitative study with 60 women interviewees identified five major biases that prevent women from entering and excelling at STEM careers.
The researchers explain that women have to prove their value and competence over and over again while their expertise is questioned and their successes belittled, Williams writes.
Another bias women are faced with is the expectation people have of them to be feminine yet having to act in masculine ways in order to prove their competency. Scientists who are also mothers find themselves against a maternal wall, what Williams describes as:
“ [mothers] find themselves running into a wall: their commitment and competence are questioned, and opportunities start drying up.”
A fourth bias observed is ‘tug-of-war’ where “women who have encountered discrimination early in their careers often distance themselves from other women.”
The fifth bias identified by Williams and her colleagues is the isolation of women scientists in view of their race:
“There are things that people exclude me from because they say, ‘Oh, she’s going to be the only black person there… just don’t invite her, she won’t feel comfortable.’” A black microbiologist participant in the study reports.
Despite the sharp decline in certain STEM fields, women are doing well in Material Science, Chemistry and Biological sciences. In the latter women make up 53% of the workforce.
Fortune’s Erik Sherman argues that early exposure of young girls to STEM will create the interest and curiosity for pursuing a STEM education and career.
The AAUW report highlights a serious obstacle women have to overcome: the unfriendliness of industry networking that makes it difficult for women to get accepted and acclimatized in organizations, hierarchies, and networks created by men.
Companies like Google and Etsy are taking steps to make women’s entry into STEM careers easier and less harrowing through an improvement of maternity and paternity benefits and smarter recruitment strategies.
For Linda Hallman, AAUW CEO, and Scott A. McGregor, the “XX factor” is the major bias that discourages women from entering STEM professions or making those already in STEM leave. Despite male and female candidates being equally qualified, companies hire male candidates due to the persistence of the gender stereotype that men are naturally better at math and science.
At Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, 40% of STEM graduates are women due to strategic changes implemented by the institution. Among the changes that encouraged this increase is the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing — the largest gathering of women in STEM professions that encourages women to interact with successful female role models.