New technologies and scientific findings push the limits of what is possible. STEM careers offer potential and future growth. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), careers within STEM are expected to grow by 8% from 2019 to 2029, more than two times faster than all occupations.1
STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields need a workforce of diverse backgrounds, ideas and interests. A STEM field may be for you. Historically, women and other diverse populations have sometimes been hesitant to explore their options in STEM, but today a number of initiatives are helping to change that.2 Below, you can learn more about diversity in STEM careers and about the opportunities available for women in STEM.
Why Is There a Lack of Women in STEM?
There is indeed a lack of women in STEM, along with significant underrepresentation of other diverse groups. Although diversity is a crucial factor in progress and innovative breakthroughs,3 women are grossly underrepresented in STEM fields, composing just 28% of the STEM workforce in the U.S.4 In some STEM career fields, the disparity is even starker: just 26% of computers and math science and only 16% of engineering majors are women.
What’s the reason for the lack of women in STEM? Consider the reason why representation has increased over the past five decades. What has led to a significant increase in women in STEM is education, advocacy and mentoring. The lack of female role models in the past has made it hard for young adults to have someone to look up to in STEM. Additional factors include when Title IX went into effect in 1972, it did more than ban discrimination in collegiate athletics; it also prohibited sex-based discrimination in higher education institutes that receive federal funding. This led to a nearly 20% jump in the number of women in STEM over the five decades that followed.5
However, as important as the law has been in improving the ratio of women in STEM, cultural forces are slower to change. Many factors contribute to the lack of women and other diverse groups in STEM, including the following:5
- Pay disparities between male and female professionals
- Lack of female role models in STEM
- Exclusionary culture
- Persistent stereotypes regarding female intellect, despite a body of research proving that women are just as capable as men in science and math
- The prevalence of sexual harassment in STEM workplaces
Exciting Opportunities for Women in STEM
Although the challenges are great, the need for diversity in STEM remains strong. Minorities who do decide to battle inequality and systemic bias can pursue a career they find meaningful and rewarding. If you are a female or a diverse student who is thinking of majoring in a STEM field, you shouldn’t let the statistics stand in your way. Rather, you could use the current underrepresentation in the field as motivation to create positive change.
As technologies continue to evolve and new breakthroughs are made, it is likely that even more new career paths will emerge. Here’s a quick look at some of the popular options for women in STEM:
- Data scientists: If you have a knack for extracting trends and other meaningful information from raw data, you might consider pursuing a career as a data scientist. Data scientists work at a range of organizations, including government agencies, research institutions and tech startups.
- Cybersecurity Analyst: An emerging career path focused on problem solving and safety. If you have an interest in problem solving and skills such as technical aptitude, attention to detail and communication skills, you might want to look at a career in cybersecurity. Organizations such as WiCys can be a great way to meet fellow women in the same field.6
- Environmental scientists: Do you get upset every time you see someone throw a plastic bottle into the trash instead of the recycling bin? Environmental science could be a great fit for you. These professionals collect and test samples, compile their findings, develop environmental remediation plans and advise policymakers.
- Rocket scientists: These aerospace engineers specialize in the design of spacecraft. Rocket scientists need a strong foundation in chemistry, physics, engineering, aerodynamics and mathematics.
- Electrical engineers: Interested in being part of the green revolution as it pertains to our energy grid? Consider becoming an electrical engineer — a profession that involves the design, testing and manufacturing of electrical systems and equipment, including alternative energy sources like wind, solar and wave power.
- Climatologists: Contrary to popular belief, climatologists aren’t TV weather reporters. Rather, they study the climate and relationships among the environment, atmosphere, climate and human beings. Climatologists study data acquired from drones, satellites and planes to identify and evaluate climate patterns. A climatologist may work in private consulting or for governmental agencies, where their findings can influence policymaking.
- Flavor chemists: Ever wonder how candy companies create products that taste like fruit, or how medications for dogs can be made to taste like beef? You’re witnessing the work of flavor chemists (or “flavorists”) in action. If you’re passionate about both food and food science, and you have a knack for chemistry, then becoming a flavorist may be a great option for you.
Diversity Resources for Women in STEM
For women in STEM, support is crucial. Even for those who are not in a diverse group, there are many ways to show support and demonstrate that you are an ally. For support, consider joining local STEM programs, create or engage in mentoring opportunities, join local and national learning and network groups, such as some of the ones listed below. You can also think about taking a part in a awareness/diversity training program and actively work to create an inclusive, welcoming environment in school and at work. The support of allies can make all feel seen, validated and welcome.
For minority students and recent graduates, it can be helpful to know where to find additional support. Here are some diversity resources to be aware of:
- STEM Women: Holds career events and promotes jobs specifically intended for minority candidates.7
- Association for Women in Science (AWIS): Advocates for women in STEM, provides career resources and highlights career opportunities for female scientists.8
- Women and Girls in STEM Programs at the Energy Department: Has compiled a list of resources for female scientists at various organizations, including support resources and professional programs.9
- IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE): Connects thousands of women in technology, provides support and connects female professionals to mentors.10
- WiCys – Women in Cybersecurity: A international community of women, allies and advocates for women in cybersecurity.6
- SWE – Society of Women Engineers: Empower women to achieve careers within engineering and technology. Promoting a positive and supporting culture.11
- Women in Tech: The world’s leading organization for Inclusion, Diversity & Equity in STEAM. Has over 200,000 community members.12
Encouraging Girls To Become STEM Majors
Exposing girls to STEM fields and encouraging their interest is key to engagement and entry into the field. Parents, teachers, civic leaders, mentors and others who want to encourage STEM education for girls can take a few concrete steps to accomplish this. Here are a few ideas:
- Introduce STEM education early. One way to encourage girls to ignore stereotypes about women in STEM is to reinforce their abilities early in life. Educators and school administrators can work on creating inclusive environments in school settings — ranging from the classroom to enrichment workshops — that make girls feel welcome in STEM education.
- Encourage participation outside the classroom. Many communities offer STEM enrichment programs that introduce younger students to STEM concepts and careers. Educators and school administrators can consider adding these enrichment programs to their afterschool and summer offerings. Parents and mentors can look for programs for girls outside of school. The local library is often a good source of information about local programs.
- Engage with the younger generation as a mentor. It is hard to be what you don’t see. Girls need to see women within the different fields to understand the opportunities and to see themselves in that role. Women who are already working in STEM fields may want to make it a little easier for the younger generations to follow in their footsteps, such as by reaching out to their alma mater — or any local school or organization — to offer their services as a mentor to young women who are interested in pursuing a STEM career.
At Grand Canyon University, you’ll find a welcoming community of students, instructors and support staff. When you’re ready to pursue a STEM education, you can choose from a wide array of degree programs offered by the College of Science, Engineering and Technology, including degrees in software development, cybersecurity, biology and engineering. Fill out the form on this page to take the first step toward your academic journey at GCU.
1 Zilberman, A. & Ice, L. (2021, January). Why computer occupations are behind strong STEM employment growth in the 2019–29 decade. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved June 15, 2023.
COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 and 2021 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well.
2 Wang, M. T., & Degol, J. L. (2017). Gender Gap in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM): Current Knowledge, Implications for Practice, Policy, and Future Directions. Educational psychology review, 29(1), 119–140.
3Gladstone Institutes. (n.d.). Where We Stand. Gladstone Institutes. Retrieved June 15, 2023.
4 AAUW. (2023). The STEM gap: women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Retrieved Aug. 24, 2023.
5McDermott-Murphy, C. (2022, June 22). Women in STEM need more than a law. The Harvard Gazette. Retrieved June 15, 2023.
6WiCys. (2023). Women in cybersecurity. Retrieved Aug. 24, 2023.
7 STEM women. (2023). STEM women career events. Retrieved August 1, 2023.
8Association for Women in Science (2023). Discover pathways to and through STEM. Retrieved August 1, 2023.
9 U.S. Department of Energy. (2023). Resources: women and girls in STEM programs at the energy department. Retrieved August 1, 2023.
10IEEE Women in Engineering. (2023). IEEE women in engineering. Retrieved August 1, 2023.
11SWE.org. (2023). A catalyst for change for women. Retrieved Aug. 24, 2023.
12Womenintech.org. (n.d.). Women in Tech. Helping women embrace Tech. Retrieved Aug. 24, 2023.
Approved by the associate dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology on Aug. 25, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.