You Belong Here: Join the Growing Group of Women in STEM
Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.
Dr. Anat Eshed’s love of science goes back to childhood; to a time where curiosity was “innate,” and she could spend long afternoons exploring and thinking about the world around her.
Preserving her curiosity, she followed this thread to physics, becoming a first-generation college student — and one of only two women in her college program. “But (I) never felt out of place as a student and then as a professional because of my gender,” she said.
While she’s sometimes met with “awkward looks and raised eyebrows” when people learn she has a PhD in Physics, she said she carries on with humor and remains true to herself.
“Yes, it is unusual to meet a woman physicist, and the stereotypical norms are still evident, but personally, I am proud of who I am and always favor being my unique self and challenging dated norms,” said Eshed, who is also an assistant vice president of Strategy, Architecture and Performance at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).
How Many Women are in STEM?
Physics is just one of many career paths that encompass STEM, a field historically dominated by men. In 1970, women made up 8% of the STEM field, according to the United States Census Bureau. By 2019, nearly a quarter of a century later, they comprised 27% of the positions, the United States Census Bureau reported.
Women in STEM statistics vary once you look at gender representation by field. As reported by the United States Census Bureau, women made up the following percentages in 2019:
- Mathematical workers: 47%
- Life and physical scientists: 45%
- Computer workers: 25%
- Engineers: 15%
Although the gap is closing in some areas, including math and science, it remains wide for STEM in general because computer and engineering positions make up 80% of STEM jobs, according to the United States Census Bureau.
When you consider the representation of race and ethnicity, there's an even larger imbalance. Pew Research reported that only 9% of all STEM positions are held by Black workers, indicating an even more significant gap for intersectional women of color working in STEM. And only 8% of STEM positions belong to Hispanic workers, Pew Research reported.
Why is There a Lack of Women in STEM?
From Grace Hopper, an early pioneer in computer programming, to Katherine Johnson’s contributions as a space scientist, women have been proving their value to STEM fields for years and years.
So why are there fewer women in STEM than men? There are many possible reasons.
One could be the lower percentage of women earning degrees in the field. In a 2021 report, Pew Research Center reported that women accounted for fewer bachelor’s degrees than men in the majority of STEM disciplines (Pew Research PDF Source). According to the report, women earned:
- 19% of computer science degrees
- 22% of engineering degrees
- 40% of physical science degrees
- 42% of mathematics degrees
With education statistics comparable to the percentage of women actually working in STEM, it makes sense that a gender gap persists in some of the major STEM fields.
But a lack of job prospects is not a barrier; there’s room for women to join. According to Eshed, the field is growing and adding positions faster than they can be filled. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 10.8% employment growth in STEM occupations through 2032.* That’s more than triple the 2.8% growth for all occupations that BLS projected.*
What may be a challenge, though, is helping more women and girls consider a profession in the field. “Inspiration to visualize your future self is commonly born from seeing someone and wanting to be ‘just like them,’” Eshed said. “How can young women be inspired by something they can’t see?”
Fostering a community of support is one place to start.
“Mentorship and community can help not only norm the belongingness of women in STEM," Eshed said. "But (they can) also expose women to STEM professions, encourage them to pursue and persevere in their studies and advance in their careers, especially if their close environment is biased."
How You Can Get Into STEM
While there isn’t one straight pathway into a STEM career, there are some general strategies that will help.
First, and foremost, if you doubt yourself or your goals, remind yourself that you can do it.
“There is no reason in the world you can’t become a STEM professional, and do not let anyone ever tell you or make you feel otherwise,” Eshed said.
You can also take advantage of events and resources in place to help diversify the STEM field. There are annual conferences, for instance, that you could attend. Some examples include:
- ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing
- Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing
- Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS)
You can also find local, regional and virtual opportunities and get involved in professional associations related to the field you’d like to enter.
Education is also an important component. You’ll typically need at least an associate degree to enter a STEM profession, according to BLS, although some roles require more. There are many types of scholarships and grants that you can apply for, too, to help you pay for college — including some for women with a desire to study a discipline within STEM.
Find out how to get a scholarship.
So which degree will you need? It’ll come down to your interests and career goals.
Find Your Program
Best STEM Majors for Women
“I think the addition of the online learning environment provides opportunities for those unable to sit in a classroom daily,” said Dr. Albanie T. Bolton, an adjunct in computer science and information technology programs at SNHU. “It is a flexible option for those who want to advance their careers or learn new skills on their own time.”
Accreditation is also important to guaranteeing quality education; some professions need to see your degree is from an accredited university, and it can be necessary if you want to advance your education at some point down the road.
Here are some programs within each area of STEM that you might consider:
If you love understanding how the world and life work and enjoy using science to solve problems, this area of STEM is right for you. Some science majors to consider include:
Amber Trahan ’18 earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science with a concentration in natural resources and conversation and now works as an environmental analyst for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Focused primarily on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) remediation throughout Connecticut, she reviews technical documents, ensures state and federal compliance and much more, working closely with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“It’s important to understand that these chemicals can not only be unsafe for human health by getting into drinking water supply wells but can affect sensitive ecosystems,” Trahan said.
The courses and projects she completed as a student, including one involving the SNHU campus Arboretum, introduced her to information, skills and processes she now uses daily.
“My classes at SNHU taught me how to evaluate all technical data for a specific situation, and problem solve the best way to remediate or protect the environment,” she said.
Technology is all around, and you’re constantly interacting with it. You’re probably reading this on a phone or a computer. Consider one of these technology degrees if you want to help determine what else is possible with technology:
- Computer science degree
- Cybersecurity degree
- Game programming degree
- Information technology (IT) degree
Gina Llanos Cramer ’20 took advantage of all she could while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, including the Tapia conference, where she networked with recruiters from what would become her employer. As a result, she applied for a program that hires promising college graduates. Now she is a lead information security analyst for a bank with locations that span the globe.
Llanos Cramer uses a slew of tools to look for vulnerabilities in the bank’s applications, reviews and streamlines processes and keeps vulnerability templates up to date. Soon she’ll also assist with vulnerability remediation and deliver monthly presentations to a security forum series.
“The education I received from SNHU has definitely helped with the roles I have stepped into, especially when it comes to communication and having to speak with members of other teams and presenting information to management,” she said.
Learn more about how to get into tech from industry professionals.
There are many different types of engineering, all of which seek to solve problems and improve civilization. The possibilities are vast in this field, and some of the majors you might consider are:
- Aeronautical engineering degree
- Electrical engineering degree
- Mechanical engineering degree
- Software engineering degree
Caela McCartney ’22 is using her bachelor’s degree in computer science to work as an associate systems engineer at Fidelity Investments. As a member of its DevOps methodology team, she is focused on automation scripting to improve accessibility of programs and software and supports the work of development teams.
A full-stack engineer internship with the same organization helped McCartney get her foot in the door while also giving her an idea of what career pathway would be the best fit for her.
“I would say I have learned a lot as a student with critical thinking and problem solving when problems arise at work,” McCartney said. “My program helped me a lot with teaching me coding and networking basics that have been applied almost every day at my current job.”
Explore the many different types of engineering.
Nothing thrills you more than working with numbers and formulas and data — except when you can use them to analyze and solve problems. If you’d like to focus your career on math and data, you might want to earn one of these degrees:
Jennifer Gardner ’19 ’22G leverages what she learned in her bachelor’s in mathematics and master’s in data analytics programs in her position as a senior credit analyst at a Delaware bank.
As a senior credit analyst, Garner conducts “quantitative and qualitative analysis relating to lending and banking, which includes commercial loans, impaired loans, allowance for loan loss calculations, fair lending practices and more,” she said.
The mathematical, statistical and analytical techniques she learned through her degree programs and during her time tutoring and coaching peers at SNHU have helped her in her role. “One of the biggest parts of my job is digging deeper to find the meaning behind the numbers,” Gardner said. “My education and experiences at SNHU sharpened my skills in this regard, allowing more confidence in my STEM skill set.”
Find out what else you can do with a math degree.
Whichever STEM path you choose, Eshed advises you to travel it with courage. “STEM is a field that thrives on turning failures (in)to opportunities, so be courageous enough to take risks knowing that with each step you grow and learn and get closer to getting it right,” she said.
Like Llanos Cramer’s experience being hired into a program designed for entry-level employees, Bolton said many companies also offer programs that pair new employees with other staff members to offer support and guidance as they adjust to their roles.
Finding or building a community is especially important for women, according to Eshed. “When signals from the environment are not inherently supportive, such as in the case of promoting women’s natural place in STEM, intentional efforts to provide these signals ... are vital in supporting women who have desire to enter the field,” she said.
Over the course of her 15-year career, Bolton has witnessed the positive impact mentorship can make for those starting in the field. As a STEM educator and a technical lead for the Common Exploration Systems Department at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, she’s seen many of her mentees go on to succeed.
“Many students say that they never thought they could do it until they met me,” she said. “I am continuing to break barriers that were not open to my race and gender. They never saw someone, African American and female, that inspired them to push their boundaries. It is always welcoming to walk into a room and see someone like you."
Why is It Important to Celebrate Women in STEM?
About one in four STEM employees is a woman, according to the United States Census Bureau. That’s a significantly greater representation than there was half a century ago.
In prior years, STEM professions might have been considered "men's work," but Bolton said that is no longer the case. "We can see that in the numerous women that have made strides in the advancement of science," she said. She believes society has done a lot to encourage more women and girls to join the field.
"That is why supporting and celebrating the efforts of women (are) so important," Bolton said. "We want to emphasize the tremendous sacrifices that have placed us here at this moment with women thriving in the world of STEM."
During the 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration — an annual conference committed to increasing the number of women and non-binary people in technology — SNHU students were spotted sporting shirts that read “I belong here.”
“This statement continues to solidify our coming into the world of STEM,” Bolton said. “Women are here, and we are here to stay.”
*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.
Rebecca LeBoeuf Blanchette ’18 ’22G is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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About Southern New Hampshire University
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Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.