Where do Women Stand in STEM?

Despite efforts, the gap between women and men involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields is still significant, both in education and practice.

For example, although women represent the majority of graduates from universities in education, only a smaller number of women have a STEM degree. According to data from OECD, of the total of graduates with science degrees, 71% are men, and just 43% of graduated women work in physics, mathematics, and engineering areas. These differences are even more significant in Latin American regions, where cultural factors affect the role and participation of women.

Thus, some countries are improving their labor force and engaging more people in critical fields to face the latest tendencies.

Why does STEM matter?

As we know, business ventures in STEM produce advances and economic development. Additionally, we live in an era of digital and technological transformation, changing the future panorama for many areas, in areas such as education and labor. According to information from the OECD, about 14% of current jobs could disappear entirely, and 32% could change significantly. These changes will be a consequence of advances in science and technology and the new market trends worldwide.

In Latin America, 3 out of 4 formal ventures have problems filling their vacancies due to the technical skills needed. This number shows the importance of STEM education for these countries.

Women in STEM education

Women’s presence in STEM areas takes on more relevance every day, due to the design and promotion of public policies, educational programs, and firm’s efforts of inclusion. Education is the key to boosting women’s participation in STEM. One of the biggest problems in moving girls to STEM areas is the cultural serotype related to women’s roles. Globally, just 4.75% of girls preferred a career in engineering or computing, while boy’s preference hovered at around 18%. And even when women obtain a STEM degree, they are less likely than men to work as professionals in these areas. 

In Latin America the problem is heightened, here the gap between men and women in education shows that just 11% of graduates for STEM programs are women, almost half of the worldwide average of 20%.  More efforts focused on boosting women’s education in STEM are needed. There are some interesting programs that are currently leading the way, for example, Women Who Code, an organization of technology education. Another critical point is creating communities where women empower women as mentors and role models.

Women in research

But not all news is bad news for our region. In Latin America, 45% of researchers are women. This number is far superior to the world average of 28%. Also, in the last years, the number of patents application with women is increasing.  While only 16.5% of inventors in international patent applications in 2020 were women, this number has risen more than 3% in the last decades. For Latin America, the number is higher. In 2020, female inventors represented 19.2% of applicants (WIPO, 2021). According to UNESCO, it is necessary to change the gender bias of STEM research through the promotion of curiosity, collaboration, critical thinking, and experimentation from education programs.

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Women working in STEM

It’s in the workforce where the gap widens. According to the US Department of Commerce, 15% of high-tech business are owned by women in Europe and the US. Also, women represent 15% of the workers in engineering (Global Gender Gap Report 2020). Leaders in tech companies are working to increase female participation. In 2020, GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft) women represented 25% of the employees. An interesting piece of data about STEM work is that women working in STEM fields expressed that their principal reason to work in STEM is their natural aptitude, and the second one is passion (Statista Research Department).

Support and community

There are some efforts and initiatives worldwide to boost women’s participation in STEM. Now our task is to make it happen, no matter where we work. If you are a teacher, encourage your students. If you are in a company, promote and participate in programs and initiatives. If you are a female leader, be a role model for us.

Elda Barron

Assistant Professor

Business School

Universidad de Monterrey

elda.barron@udem.edu

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