Are Women Making Progress in STEM?

When I started to do some research for this blog, I came across a lot of articles about the dearth of women studying in STEM fields in college. There is, of course, the cultural stereotype that women can’t do math. So even though computer science and engineering are gaining in popularity among undergraduate and graduate school women, men are flocking to those disciplines “in significantly larger numbers than women,” according to the Wall Street Journal. The rise in studying science among women is deceptive: It is largely in the fields of psychology, biology and social science programs rather than computer science, engineering and the physical sciences. In fact, more than twice as many women as men received bachelor’s degrees in psychology in 2016 as they did in those three fields combined.

There are encouraging signs, according to the Wall Street Journal: The University of Southern California awarded nearly double the number of computer science degrees to women in 2016 than it did in 2012, and during the same time, the number of female computer science degree recipients at Stanford University jumped to 25% from 14.3%. And according to the College Board, women now account for 27% of students taking the AP exam in computer science, up from 18% ten years ago.

But one recent editorial in the New York Times worries me: The Maddening Simple Way Tech Companies Can Employ More Women by Katherine Zaleski, President of PowerToFly.com, which assists companies in diversifying their work forces. Although the article addresses a problem in Silicon Valley, I suspect the same issue arises in a lot of other industries, certainly in light of the recent allegations about Harvey Weinstein in the entertainment industry.

What Zaleski relates are stories such as a senior African-American female software engineer who withdrew her application because she “felt demeaned by the all-white male group who “made it clear to her that she wasn’t a cultural fit and that therefore they didn’t need to proceed with technical questions.” That raises the question behind the article, whether the lack of diversity isn’t because women are not moving into traditionally male areas of study but that once they graduate, they are alienated in their job interviews by the companies who profess to be seeking their services. I well remember how difficult is was years ago for me as a young attorney to be taken seriously by old guard attorneys – and sometimes, even male peers of my same age. It’s sad that companies still don’t know how to communicate with women to make them feel that they are valued members of the workforce. I am encouraged by this story that Zalesi relates:

Last year, we worked with a company that set a goal that women would make up 50 percent of the engineers on one of its teams. They did it by holding a webinar led by female employees, with 100 female candidates who asked questions about how the organization was changing to become more inclusive to women. They asked recruiters to follow up with the candidates to offer fuller responses and address other concerns. The company realized it needed to take extra time to convince women that it truly valued them.

It worked. The women hired through that effort are all still at the company.

 

Everybody else, are you listening?