Women Leaving S.T.E.M. Positions – Numbers Continue to Be Bleak

In the words of Fezzik from the Princess Bride…Inconceivable!


Not only are women under represented in some of the top technology companies in the world, they are also choosing to leave those positions. From a recent GeekWire mag article featuring the gender gap in tech fields, we learn:

It’s easy to pin the lack of representation on a problem with the tech industry’s pipeline, but that belies the fact that women leave science, engineering and technical fields at a rate much higher than men. A 2011 study found that 15 percent of women who graduated with an engineering degree did not go on to work in engineering, while another 20 percent entered the engineering workforce and then summarily left for another industry.

Why is this? Are women feeling under valued, missing out on promotion opportunities, being excluded from special products? What is the answer?

“There isn’t a simple solution to this,” said Sarah Bird, the CEO of Moz, addressing a question about the gender gap during a Seattle Rotary panel this week. “If there was, we would have figured it out, because there’s definitely a will.”

One reason may be that computer science isn’t a required class like math or science at the high school level. Many students, girls included, are not exposed to the capabilities and interest that computer science offers. 

In an effort to turn that around, some organizations are making computer science more accessible:

  • Code.org offers one hours of code writing online to show how easy it is.
  • Code Academy offers a similar free learning options for students interested in being self taught.
  • Ada Developers Academy offers an intense one year program that is free to young women thanks to the generosity of sponsors. 

However, this still doesn’t answer the question – why are women avoiding and/or leaving STEM careers?

One study suggests it starts with the high school teachers. The article, What Research Says About Encouraging Girls to Pursue Math and Science says about the abilities of the genders is that there is little difference. However, girls are far less confident in their ability to be successful in those more challenging career avenues and opt out at an early age.

The solution? The author suggests that is comes down to encouragement from the teachers:

If schools are to produce the mathematicians and scientists we need in the 21st century, teachers must use strategies that bolster both female and male students’ feelings of self-efficacy in math and science. Teachers can create a high-mastery classroom by providing specific feedback to help students correct their mistakes, by genuinely praising efforts, and by focusing on students’ ability to improve and learn.

We can’t lay all of the responsibility (i.e. blame?) on the teachers. They have enough on their plates. We need to also be encouraging our girls and young women that they are fully capable of being successful regardless of the field.

As parents or caregivers of young girls, we can actively seek out camps, special education options or local clubs that expose girls to careers in science, technology, math and engineering. 

However, this doesn’t address the concern of women leaving their positions within the STEM fields.

Advancing Women in STEM, an organization led by myself and Kathleen Buse, PhD, CIO & Executive Director of Research, works directly with business leaders interested in helping women advance within their organization. Our unique and proven approach focuses on creating an inclusive workplace that enables STEM women to flourish. Our strategies and best practices are the results of our innovative research focused specifically on STEM women and STEM workplaces.

Contact us if you are interested in learning more. 

Chart from Statista