Women in STEM

The United Nations has noted that investing in the inclusion and support of women in agricultural and natural resource careers lays the groundwork for gender equality, poverty eradication, inclusive economic growth, and increased rates of innovation. However, despite recent attention and efforts, there remains a significant lack of women and racial minorities in agriculture and natural resource-related careers. Women account for 29% of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce, while racial minorities account for 11% (Beede et al. 2011). Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that women constitute 0.9% of the workforce in natural resources and are often excluded from natural resource decision-making structures. And, only one of every six full-time agricultural managers in the U.S. is a woman.

 The STEM gender and race gap is largely due to cultural expectations and implicit bias that science is reserved for white men. Reinforcing negative stereotypes about girls and minorities in science lowers their test scores and reduces their upward mobility through educational opportunities (Hughes et al. 2013). While women receive 57% of bachelor’s degrees, only 39% of women earn a degree in physical sciences and 19% in engineering (UNESCO 2017). Although Hispanic and African American women now comprise approximately 16% of the US population, these women earn only 11% of STEM bachelor’s degrees, 8% of STEM master’s degrees, and less than 5% of STEM doctoral degrees. Students from rural schools are at a greater disadvantage. The U.S. Department of Education has noted that students from rural schools demonstrate lower math and science scores than students from urban and suburban schools, often due to a smaller number of experienced teachers and fewer resources, including quality of internet access.

Despite sobering statistics, studies have shown that encouraging the intelligence and potential of girls enhances performance. It is crucial to reach girls in high school – before the gender gap in STEM emerges – and empower them to pursue their goals by strengthening science literacy, leadership, and teamwork (Hewlett et al. 2008). Research has established connections between girls’ persistence in STEM and opportunities that support girls to identify with science by fostering STEM interest, science and math self-concept, and teamwork (Hughes et al. 2013). Informal science learning experiences can foster girls’ STEM identity by enculturating them into a community of science role models and peers to develop science proficiency through legitimate participation in a scientific community of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991).

Beede D, Julian T, Langdon D, McKittrick G, Khan B, and Doms M. Women in STEM: A gender gap to innovation. U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration Issue Brief #04-11

Hewlett SA, Luce CB, Servon LJ, Sherbin L, Shiller P, Sosnovich E, and Sumber K (2008) The Athena factor: Reversing the brain drain in science, engineering, and technology. Center for work-life policy. 100 pp

Hughes RM, Nzekwe B, and Molyneaux KJ (2013) The single sex debate for girls in science: a comparison between two informal science programs on middle school students’ STEM identity formation. Research in Science Education 43: 1979-2007

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2017) UIS Fact sheet: Women in Science. 4pp