Today, only 27% of STEM jobs in the United States are filled by women. Men account for 52% of the workforce in the United States but occupy 73% of STEM jobs. Although progress has been made in increasing female representation in STEM fields over the last few decades, these glaring statistics show that there is clearly substantial work to be done.
Further, women are not only underrepresented in the STEM workforce, but men continue to vastly outnumber women majoring in STEM fields in college. College campuses must do more to actively cultivate a culture where collegiate women are encouraged to pursue careers in STEM and supported in their endeavors to do so. As we know, representation matters; universities across the country should bolster their efforts to recruit STEM faculty that reflects the diversity of their student body. Universities must also increase visibility for STEM programs targeted at women that already exist and actively work to develop more as there are so many barriers to women entering STEM fields after college.
I spoke with several young women pursuing STEM degrees at Cornell University, and many of them expressed similar sentiments regarding their experiences. Several students acknowledged that although they have witnessed female representations among their professors, many of their STEM courses are dominated by male students. One student studying Computer Science at Cornell explained that she feels as though there are adequate opportunities and resources available to her on campus as a woman in STEM. Yet, she still believes a culture of toxic masculinity permeates many of the STEM courses she has taken. Another student at Cornell, who is on the pre-med track, also shared that she feels that despite efforts on the part of the university to substantially increase female representation in STEM among students and faculty, there still exists significant barriers to young women hoping to enter the STEM workforce. For instance, misogyny is an ingrained aspect of a historically male-dominated field, and there continues to be a substantial wage gap between men and women.
It is critical to acknowledge that although a considerable gender gap continues to exist in STEM fields, there has still been recognizable headway made in furthering the representation of women in STEM on college campuses. In the last decade, universities across the country have made active efforts to recruit and accept more female STEM students. For instance, looking at statistics from my university, Cornell Engineering’s undergraduate enrollment was made up of 50% women in 2020. Furthermore, many universities have established programs and communities on campus that promote female participation in STEM and support young women in their endeavors to pursue STEM at the university level. However, although there are more women studying STEM subjects at universities, research has shown that the percentage of women who end up pursuing careers in STEM is significantly lower. It is promising to see that universities are taking the issue of female representation in STEM fields seriously; yet, we must simultaneously recognize that there is much work to be done on the university level and beyond.