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Study: More Women Enter STEM Fields, Retention Still A Problem

The so-called STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering and math -- have long been dominated by men, but substantial efforts have been made over the past decades to recruit more women. A new study says those efforts have been successful, but more needs to be done to retain those women.

Researchers from the University of Michigan's Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine examined four years' worth of gender equity report cards from people and institutions that applied for grants from the New York Stem Cell Foundation. The 741 report cards represented 541 applicants from 38 countries in North America and Europe. However, 72% of the applicants were from North America.

"Funding organizations are in a unique position to require institutional leaders to pay attention to equity, diversity and inclusion within their organizations," said the study's co-author and director of the Center. They can do this by requiring equity report cards, which measure the percentage of women and minorities at any particular institution.

These report cards can help researchers identify workplaces that emphasize gender equity, as well as allowing grant makers to promote institutions that draw from the full pool of STEM talent.

Women coming to STEM, but barriers to advancement remain

According to the researchers, the average institutional grade on the gender equity report cards was 4.0, which translates to an average of 40% women among the students, faculty and speakers at a given institution.

Unfortunately, many women either don't move up in their fields or drop out altogether. The researchers noted that "as seniority increased, the representation of women decreased."

They attributed this effect to a lack of woman-to-woman mentorship and networking opportunities, along with other factors. As areas for improvement, the researchers identified:

  • Making it easier to comply with somewhat onerous administrative requirements in applications
  • Increasing gender diversity and representation on important committees, such as those providing peer review or selecting speakers
  • Offering programs to encourage mentoring and networking among women
  • Making workloads more equitable by gender
  • Committing to transparency in decision-making
  • Offering support for child and family care

Women deserve a chance at STEM careers

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate against women in most workplaces with 15 or more employees. This includes all aspects of employment, from recruitment to hiring to working conditions to termination. It also includes preventing harassment or a hostile work environment.

Society has made great strides in letting girls know that STEM fields are open to them. Now, workplaces need to make STEM careers achievable by standing up for women's rights in the workplace.

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