Sunday, December 21, 2008

The STEM dilemma: women in science

The most recent edition of the Harvard International Review has a piece on the low numbers of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and the economic implications of that dearth:

As US competitiveness is increasingly challenged on all sides, the forced attrition of women from the STEM workforce represents an annual cost of billions of dollars. This loss comes at a time when the United States is facing an absolute decline in entry-level engineers and growing rivalry from foreign innovators. Most discussions hold that gender equality is the primary benefit of, and reason for, getting more women into science. But this is not the primary benefit. Instead, the failure to expand women’s participation in science is not simply an issue of “feminism” or civil rights but increasingly a problem for US economic security.

The bottom line argument is often the strongest one their is for implementing policy that will bring more gender equality and equity to traditionally male-dominated fields. You can argue with feminism, but very few people will argue with money. The article also explains why, despite increasing numbers of women getting STEM educations and entering STEM industries, so few of them make it to the top: they leave before they get there.

A primary source of leakage out of the STEM pipeline results from family obligations. For both male and female scientists, marriage and family create demands that can cut short a thriving STEM career. Women’s biological time clocks often mean that decisions regarding marriage and children cannot always be delayed until after their career has been well established. Therefore, they are often forced to choose, very early in their careers, between being a scientist or a mother, resulting in women being pushed out of science, engineering, and entrepreneurial careers soon after graduate school.


At December 21, 2008 at 6:22 PM , Blogger Robert McGibbon said...

The acronym STEM is funny because when I read it I think Scanning and Tunneling Electron Microscope.

Not only are there not enough women in science, but there also aren't enough doing electron microscopy.

At December 28, 2008 at 3:13 PM , Blogger pufsc said...

(this is unrelated to the topic, but) You know, Robert McGibbon, that's not really true at Princeton. Not only because there is no STEM in Bowen or in Molecular Biology, but because there are actually many more women than men in the microscopy program.


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