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How Do We Close The STEM Gap?

June 28, 2022 - Ellie Poverly

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Women have always been a fixture in the scientific community, even if their contributions weren’t recognized until recently.

Rosalind Franklin discovered the double helix, making it easier for scientists to understand DNA. She made this discovery in 1951 but wasn’t credited for it. Instead, James D. Watson and Francis H.C. Crick published their paper on the subject in 1953 and then won the Nobel Prize for the discovery in 1958 – four years after Rosalind Franklin died.

Hedy Lamarr, the famous actress, helped create the radio guidance system used to guide allied torpedoes, alongside composer George Antheil. Their invention became the basis for technologies we use every day, like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The navy stole their technology and manufactured it under a classified patent in the 1960s.

These stories repeat over and over throughout history. Today, women are still fighting for their place and the right to be seen in STEM spaces.

What Is the STEM Gap?

Understanding the importance of STEM careers is only one piece of the puzzle. It’s the people who fill those careers that make up the STEM gap. Women only make up 28% of the STEM workforce. Some fields, such as biology and chemistry, have a higher percentage of female workers. Others, such as architecture and engineering, fall far below the average.

The nature of the educational system tends to push girls and women away from STEM-related careers starting at a young age. Even young girls interested in pursuing STEM careers are guided away from those opportunities or encouraged to choose “STEAM” careers instead. STEAM incorporates art into the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields that make up the STEM acronym.

The brutal irony of the situation is that women are just as capable as men in STEM fields. Girls perform as well in math and science as boys in elementary school. Girls perform better in more complex maths like algebra in middle school. Once they get to high school, a gender gap begins to form. Female students stop taking advanced math and science classes and give up plans to become scientists or engineers for more female-dominated fields.

The Problems of the STEM Gap

STEM fields as a collective industry are growing exponentially. Industry experts estimate that there will be upwards of 820,000 new STEM-related job openings appearing in the next decade.

While this might sound like a boon for the industry, a 2018 report estimated that STEM-related industries would have upwards of 3.5 million positions by 2025. Nearly 2 million of them would end up empty because of a lack of skilled workers.

When you pair this looming labor shortage with the fact that young women are discouraged from pursuing STEM careers, bridging the gap is becoming even more challenging.

Overcoming the STEM Gap

Overcoming the STEM gap is not a simple task that will happen overnight. Part of the problem lies in the perception of the STEM field. Ask an elementary schooler to draw a nurse, and they’ll almost always draw a picture of a woman. Ask them to draw scientists or a mathemetician, and they’ll almost always draw a man.

STEM careers are steeped in gender-related misconceptions. Women are fully capable of succeeding in these industries if given a chance.

Race is another issue that reinforces the STEM gap. Studies show that young black or Latino women are less likely to enroll in STEM-related courses or pursue careers in the field. Other research shows that black girls, in particular, tend to view themselves as outsiders in mathematics courses – even if their teachers aren’t actively discouraging them from pursuing STEM courses, they may feel unwelcome and withdraw as a result.

The new generation of women in STEM careers also needs role models to look up to. This solution will require a lot of internal work in STEM-related fields because many of them are still considered male-dominated and it’s challenging to find a woman in a position of power or authority to serve as a role model.

Existing educators – especially those who work with younger minds – need to encourage everyone, regardless of gender, when they show an interest in STEM or STEAM fields. These are the minds that will shape the future, but they can’t do that without someone willing to push them and encourage them when the rest of the world decides they need to focus on something else because of their race, gender, or background.

Building a Brighter Future

Making space for women in STEM is just one part of the equation. In every STEM or STEAM-adjacent career, everyone has a role to play in building a brighter future for the human race. Bridging the STEM gap is the first step toward reaching that future.

Revolutionized is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more here.


Ellie Poverly

Ellie Poverly is a science writer specializing in astronomy and environmental science and is the Associate Editor of Revolutionized. Ellie's love of science stems from reading Richard Dawkins books and her favorite science magazine as a child, where she fell in love with the experiments included in each edition

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