Representation of women in STEM


About 28% of the workforce in Science, technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is made up of women. This underrepresentation is a continuous and relentless fight for decades and Dr. Kahn tells us about the roots of underrepresentation. “Girls’ educational choices are constrained. Underrepresentation is determined long before the first STEM job i.e in kindergarten, solidified by high school.” She goes ahead and expounds on the fact that the influences that children have from parents, teachers and fellow students often impacts girls’ choices of careers. In our societies, more males than females are encouraged to pursue STEM careers which are seen to be ‘masculine’.

Are we asking the right questions? 


According to Dr Muller, we are probably not asking the right questions when it comes to the question of underrepresentation of women. “Are we asking about workforce needs or about equality of opportunities? Are we asking why are more women not in these fields when we should be asking why are men not going into non-stem fields? Have women been missing or have they been excluded?” She goes ahead and talks of the realities of culture that perpetuate historical exclusions, influences based on gendered behaviour, expectations and experiences, outward institutional discrimination and unconscious biases. “We have cultures that perpetuate myths that there are innate abilities based on sex. There has been a long thread on brain differences and how they relate to pursuit of STEM. Research conducted has shown no real differences in those areas relating to the participation in STEM.”

Reality in Publishing


While many women face underrepresentation in many areas in STEM, it is different in publishing as we hear from Dr. Simone. “Women are not underrepresented in the workforce but the discrepancy appears in leadership where the same representation is not mirrored.” She goes ahead to explain the findings of a self-selecting Workplace Equity Survey which had about 1182 respondents from 6 continents:

  • The scholarly publishing workforce does not represent the diversity of the general population. The survey showed that only 76% of women worked in publishing whereas 96% held bachelor degrees.
  • Gender pay gap whereby 33% of males reported to get more than $100,000 whereas only 20% of women reported the same. In addition, we saw that those who were in Asian countries generally got a lower pay as compared to other continents. In the United States, those who identified as Black reported a lesser pay than the average in the continent.
  • Another crucial finding is that the proportion of women in the workforce decreases with age and rank while the opposite is true for men.
  • It also showed that there were more males in leadership and a lower percentage in diversity.


Moving into the future


As we look forward to a brighter future, Dr. Muller emphasizes the need to ‘build better awareness of bias and bias behaviours in individual interactions and institutional practices where everyone needs to understand the extent to which these ongoing behaviours support a culture that allows for microaggressions, harassment and bullying behaviours that are derailing women from STEM.” She goes ahead and mentions things that can be done in order to create a more inclusive environment which includes ‘articulating clear criteria for success & performance, using rubrics for evaluation, having equitable access to resources.” 


Dr Taylor goes ahead to emphasize that the key to staff retention in the industry is having “transparency in how performance is evaluated and providence for opportunities of growth.” She goes ahead and calls upon recruiters to be ‘inventive and creative in seeking talents” in order to create a more inclusive recruitment culture. 


For professional development of women in STEM, both Dr. Muller and Dr. Taylor emphasize embracing mentorship mentioning that there should be proper guidance for professionals on how they can take advantage of mentorship with proper criteria to set clear benefits, meeting of needs and assessing progress for both parties.


Dr. Shulamit Kahn, Dr. Carol Muller and Dr. Simone Taylor joined us for this conversation on women building careers in STEM in our January webinar which you can watch here.