American women have made incredible strides toward gender equality in the twentieth century. We can wear pants, play sports, read Fifty Shades of Grey, vote, have a job AND a family, and get that jerk at the water cooler fired for sexual harassment. Unfortunately, women have yet to achieve strides towards gender equality in this century.
A new report from the Census Bureau found that despite making up half of the overall workforce, women make up only 25 percent of workers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. This means that women’s progress in breaking into these fields has actually declined in the last decade. Another new study attempts to explain why.
”We have seen an increase in women employed in STEM occupations, but they are still underrepresented in engineering and computer occupations that make up more than 80 percent of STEM employment,” says Liana Christin Landivar, the reports’ author. To compile the report, Landivar and her team asked nearly 300 American students to describe computer science students. As I’m sure you can surmise, the most common responses included: intelligent, obsessed with video games, socially awkward, and physically unattractive. The researchers blame the media. They believe that nerdy stereotypes account for the gender disparity found in the STEM fields—but I disagree.
Women—at least not the ones I know—don’t avoid STEM fields because they fear being called awkward or ugly. We simply go where we think we will get hired—especially in this economy. We don’t have the time or money to risk unemployment. Unfortunately, women with STEM degrees fight an uphill battle for job security. Women make up 41 percent (almost half!) of graduates from science and engineering programs, but “men are employed in STEM occupations at twice the rate of women.” What the heck?!
Women who do manage to get hired in the STEM sector can expect to receive smaller salaries than their male coworkers. Full-time female employees with a science or engineering degree make $58,000 each year while white male employees make $75,100. Lest you opt for an English degree in hopes of sidestepping gendered wage discrimination: don’t bother. Women make less than men straight out of college no matter what industry or job they enter.
The story only gets more depressing for women of color. African-Americans make up 11 percent of the US workforce—but only 6 percent of STEM employees. Hispanics make up 15 percent of the workforce but only 7 percent of STEM employees.
Women have come a long way towards gender equality—but we’ve got a long way to go.