Statistics still show discrepancy between genders in STEM fields

Marnie Leonard

Staff Writer

Destnee Walton, 12, from left, Martayllia Copes, 10, and Jordan Miller, 11, all of Kansas City, assemble a robot, July 20, at Science City in Kansas City's Union Station. The KC STEM Alliance (science, technology, engineering and medicine) summer camp hosted a field trip to Science City where campers demonstrated robots they designed, programmed and built using the engineering skills they learned during camp. (Allison Long/Kansas City Star/MCT)

Destnee Walton, 12, from left, Martayllia Copes, 10, and Jordan Miller, 11, all of Kansas City, assemble a robot, July 20, at Science City in Kansas City’s Union Station. The KC STEM Alliance (science, technology, engineering and medicine) summer camp hosted a field trip to Science City where campers demonstrated robots they designed, programmed and built using the engineering skills they learned during camp. (Allison Long/Kansas City Star/MCT)

According to the United States Office of Science and Technology Policy, women hold

about half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, but they still only hold 24 percent of Science,

Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers. This has been true for the last ten

years, even as a growing number of college-educated women have expanded their part in

the workforce.

In STEM fields women earn 33 percent more than their non-STEM field counterparts,

which means the gender wage gap is smaller in STEM jobs than in non-STEM jobs,

where women still make 77 cents to every dollar earned by a male on average.

The reason behind why more women aren’t choosing to go into these fields has been

an issue of major discussion. Leslie Smith, an Associate Professor of Mathematics at

Parkland College, said that girls are discouraged from these subjects by their peers early

on in their academic careers.

“It’s not cool to be good at math if you’re a girl; those are the things that I’ve heard. I

think it’s important, especially at the late elementary school and middle school level to

really emphasize math and science to girls,” Smith said.

Catherine Stalter, the Department Chair for Engineering Science and Technologies at

Parkland College, expressed a similar sentiment. She stated that young girls are not told

of all the opportunities they have at an early enough age, and that these girls don’t have

enough access to role models or mentors to help them.

“One of the biggest things that I’ve tried to do here at Parkland has been to speak to

students about the opportunities for women in a lot of these fields and to tell them not to

overlook those opportunities,” Stalter explained. “Women have skill sets that are very

useful and the pay is typically better than what they can earn in many other fields,”

Stalter also stated that although the gap has seemed to grow smaller in recent years, in

some STEM fields the gap is no better than it was 30 years ago. She added that in many

of these fields there is government money invested in recruiting more women, so a big

way to help fix the gap would just be to get the word out. She tries to speak with young

girls and get them to realize that they do possess the skills to do well in these jobs.

Beth Bachtold, Parkland Professor of Reading in the Humanities Department teaches

Critical Comprehension Skills to students in the Engineering Science and Technologies

Department. She said that another reason why women could be discouraged from joining

a STEM career field is that it could be hard for them to integrate themselves into an area

already so dominated by men.

“It’s easy in a single gender setting to let your message reflect only the majority that’s

there, and so if it’s a dominantly male field I think that a lot of the messages that are

shared within the culture are geared toward males and geared toward the acceptance of

males,” Bachtold commented.

“It would take a lot of sensitivity to change that, and it’s probably easier for them to go

with the tradition. That can be a tough thing for women to overcome, to have the self

confidence to ignore or fight, if you’re brave enough to challenge it,” Bachtold went on

to say.

Stalter said that at Parkland, the numbers for women enrolled in her Department are still

very low. She listed two women in manufacturing, two in automotive, one in diesel, and

zero women enrolled in the collision program.

“We still have only a handful of women in each one of our programs; very, very few. The

years that I taught, if I had two females, three females, enrolled over the course of a year

that was a lot. A lot still needs to be done regarding recruitment,” Stalter remarked.

For additional statistics and information on this issue, please visit http://1.usa.gov/

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Destnee Walton, 12, from left, Martayllia Copes, 10, and Jordan Miller, 11, all of Kansas City, assemble a robot, July 20, at Science City in Kansas City's Union Station. The KC STEM Alliance (science, technology, engineering and medicine) summer camp hosted a field trip to Science City where campers demonstrated robots they designed, programmed and built using the engineering skills they learned during camp. (Allison Long/Kansas City Star/MCT)

Destnee Walton, 12, from left, Martayllia Copes, 10, and Jordan Miller, 11, all of Kansas City, assemble a robot, July 20, at Science City in Kansas City’s Union Station. The KC STEM Alliance (science, technology, engineering and medicine) summer camp hosted a field trip to Science City where campers demonstrated robots they designed, programmed and built using the engineering skills they learned during camp. (Allison Long/Kansas City Star/MCT)