By: Catherine (Kit) Nugent
Why is advocating for STEM education and equity a gender issue? The answer is simple. STEM is where the jobs are, both globally and in my home state of New Jersey.
Culturally, the gender divide in STEM fields arises out of intimidation and the lack of visible female role models. In communities of poverty, this gap becomes an exposed chasm, where there are few advocates and champions who will raise awareness and provide inspiration, motivation, and increased support.
The fact is, as women we tend to live longer and earn less than our male peers. STEM careers are a great equalizer for women. According to STEM.connectors.org, in STEM careers women earn 92 cents for every dollar men earn compared to other fields where the discrepancy is 77 cents to the dollar. Over a lifetime that is the difference of millions of dollars.
New Jersey is rich in STEM employers, headquarters to many major pharmaceuticals, technology corporations and manufacturers. By 2018, New Jersey will rank #12 in STEM employment across the United States and will need to fill 270,000 STEM jobs, according to the Research & Development Council of New Jersey. Yet, according to Dr. Joel S. Bloom, President, of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, "Our state is falling behind in the education of new professionals to take on these jobs. We are 36th among the states in bachelor's degrees in STEM fields and 25th in graduate degrees."
STEM education and participation is especially low among women. Nationally, just 12 percent of engineers are women, and the number of women in computing has fallen from 35 percent in 1990 to just 26 percent today. Black women make up 1 percent of the engineering workforce and 3 percent of the computing workforce, while Hispanic women hold just 1 percent of jobs in each field. With such low representation, role models are scarce.
The Girl Scouts' recent study reports that "fewer than 60 percent of girls have met a woman in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) career, leading to speculation that this might be part of the reason why women represent only 14 percent of the engineering workforce." Good point; we can't be what we don't know or see.
You can make a difference as a STEM advocate and champion:
-Share your commitment to STEM education and alignment with workforce readiness and practical job skill development for everyone, especially women, and communities of poverty.
-Advocate for the greater engagement of corporate mentors as role models and sources of inspiration, internships, job shadowing and more.
-Elevate the need for students' exposure to highly technical STEM skills and careers for the 21st century.
-Align education with high demand careers and encourage young girls and community leaders to petition for gender equity.
As long as women live longer than men and remain the primary caretakers for our children and families, the burden of sustainable wealth must be considered an issue of equality. And this is what we know: STEM careers provide a longer term solution and the jobs are sustainable. Won't you join me as an advocate?
Catherine "Kit" Nugent is the Vice President, External Engagement, Students 2 Science and Co-President of the Northern New Jersey Chapter of Ellevate Network. The Northern New Jersey Chapter has adopted a social value proposition in education and equity for STEM for all women. Kit is a frequent speaker on STEM related topics regarding education and workforce readiness.