Women In STEM Around The World: Where We've Improved, And Where We Can Do Better

Signs at the recent Women's March, the largest demonstration in US history. Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images

On March 8, every year, it’s International Women’s Day – a celebration of the economic, political, and social achievements of women all over the world. As we often like to point out at IFLScience, particularly around this time of year, we should absolutely be applauding the mind-blowing work of women working in science, too.

Without these people – from the great pioneers and pathfinders, to the masters and doctoral students toiling through their tough degrees – the world would be a far worse place than it is today. Today’s a good chance to acknowledge this, but it’s also a good opportunity to review the progress society has made in getting more women into science.

Although there are more women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) than ever before, problems still pervade. From the recruiting bias against women to the fact that many with STEM degrees never end up in a STEM occupation, there’s a great deal more we can all do to help climb this unfortunate mountain.

Disequilibrium

Let’s just have a quick look at the statistics for the US, the most powerful nation on Earth and certainly the richest. Although there are plenty of congressional representatives there keen on getting more women into STEM, the Land of the Free currently has a massive problem in this regard.

According to US government data from 2012, there were 41,640,670 adults aged between 25 and 64 with at least one bachelor’s degree, and 14,807,725 of them (about 36 percent) had STEM degrees. That’s not a bad proportion overall for those wanting to study or get into science.

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The state of women with STEM degrees in the US, as of 2012. US Census

However, just 1 in 4 men with STEM degrees go into STEM careers today. This is unfortunate enough, but 1 in 7 women fall for the same fate – another clear example of there not being enough paths to a career in science for both men and women, and a striking showcase of how underrepresented women are in science.

The UK fares just as badly. As of 2015, women make up no more than 18 percent of the STEM workforce, up by just 0.2 points since 2012. Just 9 percent of the British workforce are female engineering workers, and only 6 percent of qualified engineers are women.

Diversity of women in STEM is also a massive problem. In the US, back in 2013, 70 percent of STEM job holders were white. Minority women held fewer than 1 in 10 jobs as employed scientists or engineers.

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Yes, there aren’t many jobs in academia going at the moment. Funding in academia is a notoriously troublesome issue, and it’s set to fall quite dramatically in the US under the new Trump administration.

But this problem of underrepresentation has existed long before this was a factor. If you have so many women graduating with STEM degrees, you should have far more women in STEM jobs. So where are they all?

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