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Women in the Economy and STEM Careers

If we asked you to picture careers in STEM, are you seeing a male or female worker? Historically, STEM careers have been occupied by men, but it’s 2021 and it’s different now.

This blog combines work written by CHS’ Assistant Director of Academic Pathways, Margo DeKoch, and CHS’ Graphic Designer, Korey McNulty. We’ve dug deep in the world of women, specifically U.S. women, in the workforce and the following discusses two major topics; women’s history in the United States economy and globally, and STEM courses and recent advancements for girls and women in science and math.

For the 2021 Women’s History Month back in March, Ms. DeKoch had the opportunity to speak with the students at the ALC El Jadida – American Language Center. We’ve broken down the discussion into three main points.

1. Women’s Empowerment Matters.
 
“Women represent less than ½ of the world’s population and perform 2/3 of the world’s labor, but have significantly higher levels of poverty than men, and own less than 20% of the world’s arable land.” – Barber Conable. 
 
When discussing the subjugation of women, many people automatically assume that this phenomenon only exists in developing countries. This assumption is not only false but harmful to women in the developed world.

While we have come a long way, there is still plenty of progress to be made. The United Nations reports that it will take 99.5 years for women to achieve gender equality at the current rate. Why is this so important? The subjugation of women expands beyond a social issue, as it encompasses the economy and security of nations. Research funded by the Department of Defense found that women’s subordination is not merely a problem of the home and family. That nearly every dimension of national security is intertwined with whether women are subordinated or empowered within their society. Similarly, the prevalence of violence against women in a country can also predict a national predilection toward terrorism and civil conflict. 

Violence aside, societies that value the education and empowerment of women also enjoy the benefits of healthier economies and families. Ending child marriage alone could add more than $4 trillion to the global economy, curb population growth, and transform the lives of millions of young women worldwide. In 2015, McKinsey & Company conducted a “full potential” scenario. They discovered that if women were to participate in the economy identically to men, they would add up to $28 trillion to the annual global GDP by 2025. This impact is comparable to the size of the combined Chinese and U.S. economies today. Similarly, the Food and Agriculture Organization (2017) estimates that if women farmers were given the same assistance as men, malnutrition would drop 17% globally. 
 
The evidence is clear that societies at large would benefit from the empowerment of women.
 
2. Your Interactions With Other Women Matter.
 
While it is imperative that top-down approaches be implemented in order to empower women, it is not simply through the changing of laws that equality will be realized but rather through the changing of people’s hearts. As women, we need to step out of a competitive mindset. As we step into the roles of mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and in-laws, we must ensure that we do not leave our girls to suffer in the same ways that we did. We must join together to break the cycle and allow ourselves to rise by lifting others. 
 
3. The Way You Treat Yourself Matters.
 
Women often take on the role of caregivers. This is a beautiful thing and is what helps make the world go round. However, you must not get stuck in second place. You must put yourself first sometimes; even airlines know this and advocate for it. When reviewing risk management techniques, flight attendants insist that in the case of an emergency, you must first ensure that you secure your oxygen mask before assisting others. You must set aside time for yourself. Allow yourself alone time to take that bubble bath, read that book, or binge-watch a few episodes of your favorite show. Remember, a dry stream is a life source to no one.

Women in the United States Workforce

There is no doubt that women over the last century in the United States have made significant strides in all areas of life, not just the workforce. However, an evident divide still exists today between what women are paid compared to their male counterparts for the same job. Here are a few facts from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

women-in-the-united-states-workforce-stats-chs-online-high-school

The rapid rise in women’s labor force participation was a major development in the labor market during the second half of the 20th century. Overall, women’s labor force participation increased dramatically from the 1960s through the 1980s, before slowing in the 1990s. With the dawn of the 21st century, labor force participation among women began a gradual decline, until the participation rate hit a recent low in 2015 of 56.7 percent. (“Women in the Labor Force: A Databook : BLS Reports: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2”)

Occupation and Industry – By industry, women accounted for more than half of all workers within several sectors in 2019: education and health services (74.8 percent), other services (53.9 percent), financial activities (52.6 percent), and leisure and hospitality (51.2 percent). (Other services include repair and maintenance industries, personal and laundry services, membership associations and organizations, and private households.) However, women were substantially underrepresented (relative to their share of total employment) in manufacturing (29.4 percent), agriculture (26.2 percent), transportation and utilities (24.1 percent), mining (15.8 percent), and construction (10.3 percent). (13)

Earnings – Women’s median usual weekly earnings vary by educational attainment. In 2019, female full-time wage and salary workers age 25 and older with less than a high school diploma had earnings of $494. Women who had only a high school diploma had earnings of $633, those with an associate’s degree had earnings of $763, and those with a bachelor’s degree and higher had earnings of $1,195. By occupation, median usual weekly earnings of female full-time wage and salary workers were the highest in 2019 for chief executives ($2,019), veterinarians ($1,985), computer and information systems managers ($1,892), physicians and surgeons ($1,878), lawyers ($1,878), and pharmacists ($1,877). Earnings for men were highest for chief executives ($2,509), physicians and surgeons ($2,500), architectural and engineering managers ($2,457), pharmacists ($2,245), and lawyers ($2,202). (15)

The working poor – Among people who were in the labor force for at least 27 weeks in 2018, more women (3.9 million) than men (3.1 million) lived below the official poverty level. The working-poor rate (the ratio of the working poor to all individuals who were in the labor force for at least 27 weeks) was 5.3 percent for women and 3.7 percent for men. (22)

School Enrollment – Of the 3.2 million young people ages 16 to 24 who graduated from high school between January and October 2019, 66 percent (2.1 million) were enrolled in college in October of that year. For the 2019 high school graduates, the college enrollment rate was higher for young women (70 percent) than for young men (62 percent). (25)

The above points were all referenced and pulled from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Another interesting factor to examine when learning about women and their role in the United States economy is that “For Every 10% Increase in Women Working, We See a 5% Increase in Wages” (Weinstein 7) which applies to both women and men. For other countries, adding more female workers into their economy has had a more significant effect. “This is consistent with other analyses that have looked at female labor force participation across countries: as women’s share of the labor force increases by 10%, real wage growth increases by nearly 10%” (17). One of the ways women can overcome the difference in opportunity and pay is to look for support from male leaders. As a female who has been working since the age of 16, the following article I will quote caught my attention because it resonated with me. I can totally relate as in my professional life, any significant advancement I have had is the result of a promotion from a male boss, leader, or supervisor. “Men are essential to the success of women ‘Because they are in positions of power, authority and influence, they can sidestep some of the backlash that women receive, and their efforts to combat sexism are seen as more legitimate and more favorable’” (Bry).

Issues Women in Other Countries Face

Technological advancement may lead to job loss for women in developing countries in the future. One of the main ways governments can combat this is through providing education to girls and women in STEM fields. This article written by Marissa Wesely & Linda Midgley expands on this topic below:

women-globally-sewing-factories

The most commonly cited risk to women through automation and artificial intelligence is job loss, due to the concentration of women in lower- and middle-skilled jobs (such as manufacturing and clerical jobs). A recent IMF staff discussion paper examining 28 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries, plus Cyprus and Singapore, concluded that in the next two decades, automation will replace 11 percent of the female workforce (who tend to perform more routine and codifiable tasks), compared to 9 percent of the male workforce. That means 180 million female jobs are at high risk of displacement globally. Meanwhile, a 2016 ILO study predicted that some Asian nations could lose more than 80 percent of their garment, textile, and apparel manufacturing jobs, as “sewbots” replace humans in factories. This would disproportionately affect young women, who comprise a majority of the 9 million people dependent on jobs in those sectors. 

The risk that technological advances will have a greater negative impact on women than men is aggravated by the current lack of women in STEM jobs, as well as the low percentage of girls and women who are training in STEM fields. UNESCO reported in 2017 that women represent only 35 percent of all students enrolled in STEM-related fields of higher education and only 28 percent in the critical information and communications technology field. Without an intentional focus on women and girls, skilling and re-skilling programs companies or governments provide will likely disproportionately improve job prospects for men. To encourage more women and girls to enter STEM fields, we must shift social norms and attitudes that define certain occupations as “male” or “female” using a localized, holistic approach to women’s economic empowerment. (Midgley 5-6)

Advancing women and young girls by exposing them to STEM Careers early in their life is mentioned various times throughout the article. Here at CHS, we share that sentiment and encourage students of all backgrounds to participate in STEM, I.T., International, or Civics Courses

Opportunities in Science and Math for Girls & Women

Research today shows that STEM careers are disproportionate among men and women both nationally and globally. “In South Africa, while there is improved gender parity in the number of female researchers – 45 percent were female in 2016 – there is a large gender gap at STEM leadership level: only 17 percent of university chancellors or vice-chancellors and 19 per cent of heads of science councils and national science facilities were women” (Nazar and Tyres 2). Part of the problem is that young girls need to see female mentors and leaders in STEM careers to have confidence in their technical skills. When women see other women in science or math, it creates the “me-too” effect and reduces the stereotype that science and math are masculine fields. To learn more about closing the STEM gap, please visit this resource from AAUW.

Here at CHS, we offer a variety of STEM and I.T. courses to students. We also provide student support! Please click this link to learn more about the student success center or reach Academics via email at academics@citizenshighschool.com.

Before we go, we wanted to end this article with a cool resource from National Geographic. Click the link to learn more about Katherine Johnson, an African-American mathematician who helped NASA send astronauts like Alan B. Shepherd and Neil Armstrong to the moon or Ada Lovelace, who is considered to be the worlds first computer programmer!​

Bibliography

  • Bry, Barbara. “It’s 2021. Why We Still Need to Write about Women in the Workplace and the Glass Ceiling – The.” San Diego Union-Tribune, 11 June 2021, www.sandiegouniontribune.com/business/story/2021-06-11/its-2021-why-we-still-need- to-write-about-women-in-the-workplace-and-the-glass-ceiling.
  • Midgley, Marissa Wesely &Amp; Linda. “Women and the Future of Work (SSIR).” Stanford Social Innovation Review, ssir.org/articles/entry/women_and_the_future_of_work. Accessed 24 Sept. 2021.
  • Nazar, Simon, and Alex Tyres. “Opening Pathways for Girls and Women in Science.” UNICEF Office of Innovation, Unicef, 6 Mar. 2019, www.unicef.org/innovation/stories/pathways- for-girls-and-women-in-science.
  • Weinstein, Amanda. “When More Women Join the Workforce, Wages Rise — Including for Men.” Harvard Business Review, 23 Apr. 2018, hbr.org/2018/01/when-more-women- join-the-workforce-wages-rise-including-for-men.
  • “Women in the Labor Force: A Databook : BLS Reports: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7 Apr. 2021, www.bls.gov/opub/reports/womens-databook/ 2020/home.htm.
Korey McNulty

Korey McNulty

Graphic Designer

Margo Dekoch

Margo Dekoch

Assistant Director of Academic Partnerships and Pathways

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