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«A Resource Guide for Parents and Teens Developed and Compiled by the Youth Council of the DuPage Workforce Board A Letter to Parents: Your teen’s ...»

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In general the number of doctoral degrees in STEM disciplines earned by women from underrepresented racial-ethnic backgrounds also increased during the past four decades but still remains a small proportion of the total. For example, in 2007, African American women earned 2.2 percent of the doctorates awarded in the biological sciences and less than 2 percent of those awarded in engineering, computer sciences, the physical sciences, and mathematics and statistics. The proportions were similar for Hispanic women and even smaller for Native American women (National Science Foundation, 2009b). Although women have clearly made great progress in earning doctorates in STEM fields, at the doctoral level women remain underrepresented in every STEM field except biology.

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Consistent with the increased representation of women among STEM degree recipients, women’s representation in the STEM workforce has also improved significantly in recent decades; yet, as figure 10 shows, women are still underrepresented in many STEM professions.

In fields such as the biological sciences, women have had a sizeable presence as far back as 1960, when women made up about 27 percent of biologists. Forty years later, in 2000, women made up about 44 percent of the field. On the other end of the spectrum, women made up a mere 1 percent of engineers in 1960 and only about 11 percent of engineers by 2000 (see figure 11). This is an impressive increase, but women still make up only a small minority of working engineers. Overall, progress has been made, but women remain vastly outnumbered in many STEM fields, especially engineering and physics.

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33.1% 29.3% 29.2% 30 27.5% 22.4% 20.9% 19.4% 20 14.9% 13.1% 10.4% 10.3% 10 7.7% 6.7%

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Note: Occupations are self-reported.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009, Women in the labor force: A databook (Report 1018) (Washington, DC), Table 11.

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32.3% 33.1% 30 27.5% 30.0% 27.4% 26.9% 26.1% 19.7% 20 20.1% 13.9% 12.9% 10 8.2% 11.9% 10.6% 5.4% 9.1% 4.3% 3.4% 4.6% 0.9% 1.7% 0 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 Notes: Data on postsecondary teachers by eld of instruction were not gathered in the 2000 census, so postsecondary teachers are not included here. When postsecondary teachers were included from 1960 to 1990, the general trends remained the same.

In the 1980 and 1990 censuses, data include life scientists as well as biological scientists.


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Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, & 2000, Census of the population (Washington, DC).

Among workers who hold doctorates, men represent a clear majority in all STEM fields. Figures 12a and 12b show that men far outnumber women, even in the biological sciences.

In the academic workforce, women’s representation varies by discipline as well as tenure status. Forty percent of the full-time faculty in degree-granting colleges and universities in the United States in 2005 were women; however, women’s representation in STEM disciplines was significantly lower. Women made up less than one-quarter of the faculty in computer and information sciences (22 percent), math (19 percent), the physical sciences (18 percent), and engineering (12 percent). In the life sciences, an area in which many people assume that women have achieved parity, women made up only one-third (34 percent) of the faculty. In all cases women were better represented in lower faculty ranks than in higher ranks among STEM faculty in four-year colleges and universities (Di Fabio et al., 2008).

The situation is even more severe for women from underrepresented racial-ethnic backgrounds. Of the more than 7,000 computer-science doctoral faculty in 2006, only 60 were

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Note: The number of female unemployed workers was not available due to small sample size.

Source: National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, 2009, Characteristics of doctoral scientists and engineers in the United States:

2006 (Detailed Statistical Tables) (NSF 09-317) (Arlington, VA), Authors’ analysis of Table 2.

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Note: The percentages do not equal 100 due to rounding.

Source: National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, 2009, Characteristics of doctoral scientists and engineers in the United States:

2006 (Detailed Statistical Tables) (NSF 09-317) (Arlington, VA), Authors’ analysis of Table 2.

AAUW 16 African American women; numbers for Hispanic and Native American women were too low to report. African American women also made up less than 1 percent of the 17,150 postsecondary teachers in engineering. Even in the biological sciences the number of African American and Hispanic female faculty was low. Of the nearly 25,000 postsecondary teachers in the biological sciences, 380 were African American women and 300 were Hispanic women (ibid.).

Women’s representation among tenured faculty is lower than one would expect based on the supply of female science and engineering doctoral degree recipients in recent decades (Kulis et al., 2002). The path from elementary school to a STEM career has often been compared to a pipeline. This metaphor suggests that as the number of girls who study STEM subjects in elementary, middle, and secondary school increases (more girls go into the pipeline), the number of women who become scientists and engineers will also increase (more women come out of the pipeline), and gender disparities in representation will disappear. This has not happened at the expected rate, especially at the tenured faculty level in science and engineering. If we compare the percentage of tenured female faculty in 2006 with the percentage of STEM doctorates awarded to women in 1996 (allowing 10 years for an individual to start an academic job and earn tenure), in most STEM fields the drop-off is pronounced. For example, women earned 12 percent of the doctorates in engineering in 1996 but were only 7 percent of the tenured faculty in engineering in 2006. Even in fields like biology, where women now receive about one-half of doctorates and received 42 percent in 1996, women made up less than one-quarter of tenured faculty and only 34 percent of tenure-track faculty in 2006 (National Science Foundation, 2008, 2009a). Women make up larger percentages of the lower-paying, nontenured STEM faculty positions (see figure 13).

Several studies have found a gender difference in hiring in STEM academic disciplines (Bentley & Adamson, 2003; Nelson & Rogers, n.d.; Ginther & Kahn, 2006). Although recent research found that when women do apply for STEM faculty positions at major research universities they are more likely than men to be hired, smaller percentages of qualified women apply for these positions in the first place (National Research Council, 2009). Improving women’s position among STEM faculty will apparently require more than simply increasing the pool of female STEM degree holders (Valian, 1998; Kulis et al., 2002).

Cathy Trower and her colleagues at the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) at Harvard University found that female STEM faculty express lower job satisfaction than do their male peers. Lower satisfaction leads to higher turnover and a loss of talent in science and engineering. Trower’s research, profiled in chapter 7, suggests that the climate of science and engineering departments is closely related to satisfaction of female faculty and that providing effective mentoring and work-life policies can help improve job satisfaction and, hence, the retention of female STEM faculty.

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0 10 20 30 40 50

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Source: National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, 2009, Characteristics of doctoral scientists and engineers in the United States: 2006 (Detailed Statistical Tables) (NSF 09-317) (Arlington, VA), Author's analysis of Table 20.

Women working in STEM fields tend to have higher earnings than do other women in the workforce, although a gender pay gap exists in STEM occupations as in other fields. For example, in 2009 the average starting salary for bachelor’s degree recipients in marketing was just over $42,000 a year, and bachelor’s degree recipients in accounting received starting salaries averaging around $48,500 a year. In comparison, starting salaries for bachelor’s degree holders in computer science averaged around $61,500, and average starting salaries were just under $66,000 for individuals holding bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering (National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2009). As these numbers indicate, many STEM careers can provide women increased earning potential and greater economic security.

Recent studies of scientists, engineers, and technologists in business and the high-tech industry have found that women in these fields have higher attrition rates than do both their male peers and women in other occupations (Hewlett et al., 2008; Simard et al., 2008). The studies highlight midcareer as a critical time for these women. Hewlett et al. (2008) at the Center for Work-Life Policy at Harvard University found that female scientists, engineers, and technologists are fairly well represented at the lower rungs on corporate ladders AAUW 18 (41 percent). More than half (52 percent), however, quit their jobs by midcareer (about 10 years into their careers). High-tech companies in particular lost 41 percent of their female employees, compared with only 17 percent of their male employees. In engineering, women have higher attrition rates than their male peers have, despite similar levels of stated satisfaction and education. The Society of Women Engineers (2006) conducted a retention study of more than 6,000 individuals who earned an engineering degree between 1985 and 2003. One-quarter of female engineers surveyed were either not employed at all or not employed in engineering or a related field, while only one-tenth of men surveyed had left the engineering field.

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One of the largest gender gaps in cognitive skills is seen in the area of spatial skills and specifically on measures of mental rotation, with boys consistently outscoring girls (Linn & Petersen, 1985; Voyer et al., 1995). Many people consider spatial skills to be important for success in fields like engineering, although the connection between spatial abilities and success in STEM careers is not definitive (Ceci et al., 2009). Whether or not well-developed spatial skills are necessary for success in science and engineering, research shows that spatial skills can be improved fairly easily with training (Baenninger & Newcombe, 1989; Vasta et al., 1996).

Among the most promising research findings in this field are those of Sheryl Sorby, whose work is profiled in chapter 5. Sorby and Baartmans (2000) and their colleagues designed and implemented a successful course to improve the spatial-visualization skills of first-year engineering students who had poorly developed spatial skills. More than three-quarters of female engineering students who took the course remained in the school of engineering, compared with about one-half of the female students who did not take the course. Poor or underdeveloped spatial skills may deter girls from pursuing math or science courses or careers, but these skills can be improved fairly easily.

Biolog y is not dest iny Ceci et al. (2009) reviewed more than 400 articles exploring the causes of women’s underrepresentation in STEM fields, including biological as well as social factors, and concluded that the research on sex differences in brain structure and hormones is inconclusive. Female and male brains are indeed physically distinct, but how these differences translate into specific cognitive strengths and weaknesses remains unclear. Likewise, evidence for cognitive sex differences based on hormonal exposure is mixed. Ceci et al. found that hormonal exposure, especially in gestation, does have a role in cognitive sex differences. Overall, however, the researchers concluded, “Evidence for a hormonal basis of the dearth of female scientists” is “weaker than the evidence for other factors,” such as gender differences in preferences and sociocultural influences on girls’ performance on gatekeeper tests (p. 224).

Differences in the representation of women in science and math fields cross-culturally and over time also support the role of sociocultural factors for explaining gender gaps in these fields (Andreescu et al., 2008). As discussed earlier, the ratio of boys to girls among children identified as mathematically precocious has decreased dramatically in the last 30 years, far faster than it would take a genetic change to travel through the population. Also, while in the vast majority of countries more boys than girls scored above the 99th percentile in mathemaAAUW 20 tics on the 2003 Program for International Student Assessment, in Iceland and Thailand more girls than boys scored above the 99th percentile (Guiso et al., 2008). Differences between countries and over time illustrate the importance of culture in the development of mathematical skills.

S cient ists and engineers are not necessar il y the highest math ac hie vers Boys outnumber girls at the very high end of the math test score distribution. Some researchers have suggested that this gender difference accounts for the small number of women in certain STEM fields. This logic has two main flaws. First, as mentioned above, girls have made rapid inroads into the ranks of children identified as “mathematically gifted” in the past 30 years, while women’s representation in mathematically demanding fields such as physics, computer science, and engineering has grown slowly. That is, fewer women pursue STEM careers than would be expected based on the number of girls who earn very high math scores.

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