• 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 working 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.

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 and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).


1. There’s a science 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.

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A breakdown 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 women account for just 5% of researchers in the African nation of Chad, the lowest rate of those surveyed.


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 Female student enrollment by subject

stem science technology science chemistry biology physics tech ai artificial intelligence machine learning  research  lab laboratory scientist fourth industrial revolution change progress advancement women men female male girls boys teenagers teens development gender gap parity equality diversity progress change femmine masuline woman man sex biology roles dynamic balance bias androgynous
Women are under-represented on STEM courses in higher education in the UK
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.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress towards closing gender gaps on a national level. To turn these insights into concrete action and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public private collaboration.

These accelerators have been convened in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Panama and Peru in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank.

In 2019 Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women represent only a little over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the workforce are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to reach senior management roles.

France has become the first G20 country to launch a Gender Gap Accelerator, signalling that developed economies are also playing an important role in spearheading this approach to closing the gender gap.

In these countries CEOs and ministers are working together in a three-year time frame on policies that help to further close the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries you can join the local membership base.

If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator you can reach out to us to explore opportunities for setting one up.

3. Bias and gender stereotypes can drive some away from pursuing a STEM career

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 and 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 in these areas.