Women and people of color are consistently underrepresented in computer science and engineering, two of the largest and highest paying sectors in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. This lack of diversity hurts the industry by suppressing innovation, and hiring bias creates an untapped pool of talented workers. In addition, there is a significant gender pay gap across the highest paying STEM jobs. In order to understand how to address inequality in the STEM fields, we must first understand what is meant by the STEM gender gap.
If one takes a broad view of what a STEM field is then, on the surface level, there isn’t a STEM gender gap at all. When a Pew Research Center study by Cary Funk and Kim Parker (2018) included healthcare workers as STEM workers they found that women made up 50% of all US workers in STEM fields.
A clearer image of the disparities emerge when we look within the different STEM fields. In health-related jobs, women make up 75% percent of the workforce, which accounts for 9.0 million of the 17.3 million STEM jobs in the U.S. While women may be overrepresented in the health related workforce they are actually underrepresented in the highest paying jobs in the health-care industry. Women working as healthcare practitioners and in technical occupations make $1,153 a week compared to $1,506 a week made by men (Labor Force Statistics, 2021). The disparity is both a pay gap and a job category gap. In other words, a female surgeon makes less than a male surgeon on average and women are more heavily represented among nurses than surgeons. Of the 4.4 million computer science workers, women make up only 25% of the workforce, and of the 2.7 million engineers and architects, women make up only 14% of the workforce. While women make up 47% of life sciences workers, 46% of Math workers, and 39% of physical science workers, these occupations only consist of 1.1 million jobs (Funk and Parker, 2018).
In addition to a gender gap it is also true that Black, Hispanic, and Native American workers are underrepresented in most STEM fields. While Black workers represent 11% of the U.S. workforce, they make up only 7% of the computer science workforce and 5% of the engineering workforce. Hispanic workers account for 16% of the workforce, but only 7% of the computer science workforce and 8% of the engineering workforce (Funk and Parker, 2018). Native Americans represent 1 percent of the labor force (Labor force characteristics, 2019), but make up less than half a percentage point of the engineering workforce (Change, 2015), and receive less than half a percentage point of computer science bachelors degrees (Computer Science, 2020). Thus, in addition to women being underrepresented in these fields, women of color face both gender and racial barriers.
The gender gap in STEM means that women, and especially women of color, are underrepresented in the highest paying positions in these fields. It also means that women working in STEM get payed less than men who work the same job.