The science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) sectors, and their importance, grows every day. These are some of the highest paying and most necessary jobs to address many of the biggest issues around the world—yet women continue to be underrepresented. Let’s take a look at where this problem begins, how far it reaches and why it is vital to change.
Women in the United States make up about half of the workforce, yet to this day they are dramatically underrepresented in STEM careers. In 2019, women made up only 27% of the STEM workforce, compared to 73% for men . So, although the percentage of women and men in the U.S. workforce is fairly even, there is extremely disproportionate STEM representation of woman in these high paying positions.
Looking at the different occupations within STEM helps illustrate this disparity even more. For example, women make up about a quarter of computer workers and only 15% of engineering occupations . Of the 70 STEM occupations reported on by the United States Census Bureau, women earned more than men in only one: computer network architects . But within that one occupation, women represented only 8% of the demographics . Workers in STEM fields are in high demand and a typical STEM worker earns two-thirds more than those employed in other fields . Despite the high demand, some of the highest-earning STEM occupations have the lowest percentages of women workers. This includes occupations, such as computer science and engineering . These numbers bring attention to the alarming gender gap that exists in STEM, especially as these industries continue to grow.
Origins of the Gender Gap
Where does this occupational disparity begin, and why do more young girls and women not choose to enter the STEM world? Two stereotypes are: girls are worse at math than boys and boys and men are better suited to science . As the American Association of University Women points out in their Solving the Equation report, these damaging stereotypes not only influence women’s mathematical performance, but also contribute to disengagement from the fields in which women are negatively stereotyped, such as engineering and computing .
This problem is further compounded by media representation of STEM professions. When the primary examples children see, such as in movies and TV, depict those stereotypes, these beliefs are reinforced. After constant reinforcement throughout childhood, girls often choose not to pursue STEM fields in the first place. Repeated exposure of young girls to those stereotypes guides their behavior and turns them away from careers in STEM. It is also extremely important to note that women of color are even less likely to be represented in media depictions of people in STEM fields .
Why We Should be Concerned
The lack of girls and women in STEM is linked to many important factors. It is important for women to have a place in the STEM sphere because these occupations are essential to fostering innovation and creativity that can help work toward solutions to global problems, such as the water crisis. The water crisis is linked to women’s issues, as we have examined in our previous blog posts. It results in women and girls spending most of their time collecting water rather than pursuing an education, investing in economic progress and other positive opportunities. If women are not involved in the implementation of STEM work, the problems and solutions that are unique to women may be overlooked.
Women are underrepresented in the areas that are needed to address the water crisis, one of the most important being representation in the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) labor force. In developing countries, women make up less than 17% of that labor force  but are disproportionately affected by WASH problems. This is an extension of the impacts of the water crisis on education and economic opportunities for women that begins with their commitment to water collection and management. This is why having more women in STEM is so important. Properly investing in STEM education for women is vital to ensuring that the specific problems which so heavily affect them are effectively addressed.
Why WaterWoman Matters
The underrepresentation of female role models is connected to the underrepresentation of women and girls in STEM among many other things. And this is why the superhero, WaterWoman, matters to young girls. As a female environmental superhero, WaterWoman serves as a role model for kids, inspiring the self-confidence and belief that they can, and should, pursue careers within the water sector and other STEM fields. With the goal to empower future generations to help save the planet, her purpose is to teach children about the global water crisis and inspire them to be environmental leaders to make the world a better place.
WaterWoman wants girls around the world to know that they can pursue and enjoy science, technology, engineering and mathematics too. In fact, going into STEM fields, working to save the environment, and working toward solutions to global problems is something girls should be inspired and proud to do. When women and girls have an equal number of seats at the table, so-to-speak, we will be able to get closer to beating the global water crisis.
WaterWoman Sustainability Education, Inc.
At WaterWoman Sustainability Education, our goal is to engage, educate and empower future generations to end the global water crisis. Through water sustainability education, we hope to move the needle when it comes to combating the impacts of water insecurity around the world. We also hope to inspire more girls to get jobs and start careers in the water sector along the way. We want you to learn as much as you can about today’s topic: women and girls in STEM. Check out a few of our favorite resources, including the American Association of University Women and the United States Census Bureau, for more information. Resources like these help us all understand the depth of water and women’s issues around the world.
To help us reach our goals, WWSE is running its first fundraiser, through the end of today, Earth Day, April 22, 2021. The money for this fundraiser will go toward the production of WaterWoman’s first adventures. The Adventures of WaterWoman™ is an educational entertainment program aimed at improving awareness, understanding and engagement among young people about the global water crisis. You can learn more about The Adventures of WaterWoman™ here. To support our fundraiser, please click here!
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Women making gains in STEM occupations but still underrepresented. The United States Census Bureau website. https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/01/women-making-gains-in-stem-occupations-but-still-underrepresented.html. Accessed April 12, 2021.
The STEM gap: Women and girls in science, technology, engineering and math. AAUW website. https://www.aauw.org/resources/research/the-stem-gap/. Accessed April 12, 2021.
Women and the water crisis: Why tackling two top global challenges will be a force multiplier for change. Women 2.0 website. https://women2.com/2021/01/21/women-and-the-water-crisis-why-tackling-two-top-global-challenges-will-be-a-force-multiplier-for-change/ Published January 21, 2021. Accessed April 13, 2021.