Recent studies show that women are enrolling in and graduating from science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) doctoral programs in much smaller numbers than in other disciplines, even though they earn more doctorates overall.
Another study found that the fewer women who enter a STEM doctoral program, the less likely they are to complete their degree. As an IT executive, I urge educators and leaders at all levels of academia to commit to improving outcomes for women in STEM programs.
According to the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), women earned 53% of all doctorates—a total of 41,717 degrees—during the 2016–2017 academic year. The CGS study found that first-time doctoral program enrollment among females was 27.3% in Engineering and 27.8% in Mathematics/Computer Sciences, while doctoral degrees awarded to women in these fields were 23.4% and 25.1%, respectively.
Another study by the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center found women earned 39% of all STEM doctoral degrees in 2016. But while women outnumbered men in social sciences and psychology (55%) and biological and agricultural sciences (52%), they only accounted for 24% of engineering and 21% of computer sciences doctorates.
A new report from The Ohio State University indicates that the fewer women there are in a STEM entering class, the less likely any one of them will graduate within six years.
Ohio State researchers found that women joining a “typically male” program (fewer than 38.5% females) were 7% less likely to graduate within six years; and in cases with only one woman in a new class, she is 12 percentage points less likely to graduate within six years than her male peers. But for each additional 10% of women in a class, the gender gap in on-time graduation rates shrinks by more than 2 percentage points.
The findings suggest schools are not doing enough to recruit, retain and support women in STEM programs. The best way to boost female enrollment in engineering and technology degree programs is to nurture girls’ interest and confidence in STEM subjects from elementary through high school. This starts with educators and administrators at the K–12 level, but it doesn’t end there.
Colleges should be doing more to promote STEM graduate programs to females, and they need to provide greater support to those who do enroll. Employers and female tech professionals can also help shift the balance within these fields.
Among these steps, I propose to increase representation of women in STEM by including computer and coding classes in K–12 schools to expose more girls to these subjects at an early age.
Offer scholarships and other forms of financial assistance to female students who wish to pursue engineering or computer science degrees. Universities should aim to hire more female STEM faculty, and those that have women leading doctoral classes should promote that fact.
Colleges should track female enrollment and graduation rates for STEM graduate programs and provide more resources and support to improve outcomes.
Employers and women in tech careers should engage in mentorship programs to help guide and champion females as they pursue educational and professional goals.
Increasing the number of minorities and women in technology roles can create economic and competitive advantages for businesses. In honor of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, I urge educators to commit to improving the academic climate for females in STEM programs.
When women have the support they need to enter and succeed in these fields, everyone wins—not just women, but universities, employers and the economy as a whole.