Gender Inequality

3 things to know about women in STEM

Gender inequalities and biases are possible reasons for only a few women in STEM

Gender inequalities and biases are possible reasons for only a few women in STEM Image: REUTERS/Manuel Balce Ceneta/Pool

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Gender Inequality

  • Female students and employees are under-represented in STEM-related fields.
  • On average, around 30% of the world’s researchers are women.
  • Less than a third of female students choose to study higher education courses in subjects like math and engineering.
  • Women in STEM fields publish less and often receive less pay.

Science and gender equality are vital to the world reaching sustainable development goals, and in recent years much has been done to help inspire women and girls to study and work in technical fields. But women continue to be excluded from participating fully, according to the United Nations.

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Women in STEM statistics

The UN has called on the global community to end this imbalance, and every year holds an International Day of Women in Science to help accomplish this goal.

To mark this year's event, here are three facts about women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

1. There’s a STEM gender gap

When it comes to the world of science, women are in the minority. Less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women and this under-representation occurs in every region in the world.

UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) figures show an uneven global picture.

Women in STEM statistics: Percentage of female researchers in Africa, Asia and the Pacific
Women in STEM statistics: Percentage of female researchers in Africa, Asia and the Pacific Image: UNESCO

Women make up almost half of researchers in Central Asia. As the chart shows, more than 80% of researchers in Myanmar are female, for example, and there are more women researchers than men in countries like Azerbaijan, Thailand and Georgia.

The average falls to 18.5% in South and West Asia, with women accounting for less than 15% of researchers in India, dropping to single figures in Nepal.

Female engagement averages around 40% for researchers in Latin America and the Caribbean, Middle East states, and countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

The average rates for North America, Western Europe and sub-Saharan Africa hover around 30%. But with only 5 percent of women in STEM in the African nation of Chad, it has a high STEM gender gap.

2. Only a fraction of female students select STEM-related fields in higher education

Global female enrollment is particularly low in certain fields. Just 3% of students joining information and communication technology (ICT) courses across the globe are women. That improves slightly to 5% for mathematics and statistics courses. And it increases to 8% for engineering, manufacturing and construction courses.

Women are more attracted to STEM courses in some regions of the world than others, but the global situation remains characterized by gender imbalances.

Data from education bodies UCAS and HESA shows women make up 35% of STEM students in higher education in the UK, for example.

UK enrollment of women in STEM, by subject

Graph showing lower percent of women in STEM in comparison to men
Graph showing lower percent of women in STEM in comparison to men Image: STEM Women

Women in the UK comprise about a third of those enrolled in physical science courses (like physics, chemistry and astronomy) and a similar proportion of mathematical science courses. But the lure of computer sciences and engineering and technology subjects is considerably less, with UK women constituting only about a fifth of the student body for these courses.

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3. Bias and gender stereotypes can drive away women in STEM

Entrenched Gender stereotypes and gender bias are driving girls and women away from pursuing careers in science-related fields.

Gender inequalities in the US film industry are brought to light in the Gender Bias Without Borders study, which demonstrates how gender stereotypes are reinforced by the way females are characterized in movies.

The study shows less than a third of all big screen speaking roles are played by females. On screen, engineers, scientists and mathematicians are largely played by men, with seven times more male STEM roles in movies than female roles. In fact, just 12% of characters with identifiable STEM jobs onscreen were women. It’s a situation that moves off the screen to influence everyday perceptions of gender roles.

Women who choose to rise to the challenge and pursue a STEM career later face the prospect of unequal pay and restricted career progression. Additionally, gender disparities adversely affect economic growth and social progress, studies show.

The UIS is developing new indicators to better understand the dynamics that shape women’s decisions to seek a career in STEM-related fields, showing the extent to which family decisions, financial considerations, workplace culture and discrimination can shape female career choices and progression of women in STEM.

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