Why are Women Leaving STEM Careers?


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Show Notes for Genuine Driven Women Episode #10

Welcome to the “Genuine Driven Women” podcast, the show where we guide women to reveal their strengths so they believe and can achieve their desired greatness!

On today’s show we are going to talk about why so many women leave STEM careers.

Before we get started, a few of our listeners have reached out to us and let us know they love what we are doing. Some people have asked us how they can help us grow and succeed in our mission. The absolute best thing you can do if you think this show has meaning and if it has inspired you, is to go to iTunes and take a minute to write a review. I have put a link in the show notes if you want to type a review. (Link to GDW in iTunes) Or simply share our podcasts via your social media accounts.

ADALIDA: We’d like to thank Ray and Andrea for a 5 STAR review we received via iTunes. ★★★★★ 5 out of 5 stars.

Tami: Positive message and great references!


Adalida: Do you want the good news or the bad news first?

Adalida: The good news is: With all the push to get women interested in STEM careers at the grade school through high school level, we are now at a place in the United States, where women are graduating from college with STEM degrees at a rate that is nearly equal to men. This is GREAT NEWS!

Then, what is the bad news? Well – unfortunately, with the exception of the medical field, we still have a long way to go before the numbers of women WORKING in STEM careers, in the real world, reaches anything near equal. Since 1990, when only 12% of working engineers were women, as of a PEW research study, in 2016 only 14% of women working engineers were women.

WHAT? In the last 26+ years, with the incredible increases in women receiving engineering degrees, we have only increased the number of women engineers who are actually working by 2%!

Women comprise 47% of all employed adults today, up modestly from 45% in 1990, and they make up half (50%) of all employed adults in STEM jobs in the U.S. The share of women in STEM overall is driven in large part by women’s overrepresentation in health-related jobs, the largest STEM occupational cluster. Three-quarters (75%) of healthcare practitioners and technicians are women. (Pew.)

In fact, the share of women has decreased in one of the highest-paying and fastest-growing STEM clusters – computer occupations. In 2016, 25% of workers in these occupations were women, down from 32% in 1990. At the same time, growth in women’s representation in engineering has been incremental at best, increasing only slightly from 12% in 1990 and 2000 to 14% today. (Pew.)

If the job market is growing fastest, overall, for computer related STEM jobs, which are is also the one of the highest paying sectors, the gender and wage gap will only increase if we do not do something to turn the tide.

What are the reasons women are not staying and working in the STEM fields and what can we do about it?

According to an article from Harvard Business Review, the 5 Biases Pushing Women Out of STEM, they discussed many of the usual reasons women leave, including women leaving to have children then losing upward momentum and the tightrope of behavior and appearance women have to walk to be accepted.

These are very real and ever present for women in all industries, but much more apparent in male dominated industries. A couple ideas that I thought were interesting and different than I usually hear discussed were:

1. Women who have encountered discrimination early in their careers often distance themselves from other women.

In some of these cases, they hlthat they were in competition with the small percentage of other women in their workplace and felt they had to align with the men to be seen as acceptable. If there was only going to be one woman who would succeed, they wanted to make sure it was them.

An article published in March 25, 2011 edition of The British Journal Social Psychology, described this phenomenon as 'Queen Bees'. Queen Bees are senior women in masculine organizational cultures who have fulfilled their career aspirations by dissociating themselves from their gender while simultaneously contributing to the gender stereotyping of other women. This type of women contributes to gender discrimination in organizations.

Another reason women leave STEM careers is that they feel Isolation from colleagues and peers. One pattern of bias seemed to apply mainly to black and Latina women. The article stated that, 42% of black women stated “I feel that socially engaging with my colleagues may negatively affect perceptions of my competence,” only slightly more often than Latinas (38%), Asian-American women (37%), and white women (32%).

In Harvard Business Review interviews, black women mostly mentioned this pattern.

“A lot of times, there are things that people exclude me from because they say, ‘Oh, she’s going to be the only black person there… just don’t invite her, she won’t feel comfortable.’ said a microbiologist.

“You don’t know who you can trust,” said a biologist. “This has been a very lonely life.”

An interesting third reason is that Efforts to increase recruiting for women in STEM actually reinforces that this is a man’s world.

This concept comes from a working paper published form Georgetown University, where one of the co-authors, Adriana D. Kugler, explained that one of the reasons women might feel undue pressure in STEM fields might actually be because of how recruiting and mentoring is framed.

Many times, those efforts actually end up reinforcing the idea that STEM is for men. “Society keeps telling us that STEM fields are masculine fields, that we need to increase the participation of women in STEM fields, but that kind of sends a signal that it’s not a field for women, and it kind of works against keeping women in these fields,” Kugler said.

Ok, so what can we do to KEEP women in STEM careers? Here are a couple of ideas:

1. MORE female mentors!

  • Having an active female mentor improved the likelihood of a woman remaining in an engineering degree – in one study this resulted in every woman with a mentor remaining the in the program. Imagine if that was translated to all transition point, high school to college, college to the workforce, organization to organization. If you are a female engineer – find young ladies to mentor, please! (This would be the opposite of the Queen Bee syndrome.)

2. Adapting recruiting efforts within organizations hiring engineers.

Companies need to make it clear that they want women – invite them. (ex: Etsy grant program focused on women) Some companies are succeeding! Example – “How Etsy Grew their Number of Female Engineers by Almost 500% in One Year

Create workplaces that women want to be a part of, that support diversity, that allow for some amount of a flexible work schedule to assist working mothers, and re-integration after maternity leave.

Think about how much technology is changing and how fast the world is moving. Technology is now impacting almost everything we do:

  • order groceries online
  • go to college
  • automobiles that drive for us or heavily assist
  • exercise classes
  • telecommuting for work
  • kids toys (cars, dolls, educational toys)
  • children’s school work (iPads, testing)

I know countless brilliant men, including brilliant Ph.D. level engineers, but they still do not have the understanding of what it means to be a woman, our challenges, our passions and dreams. Women are beautiful and complex and will adapt the world in ways that everyone will benefit from. We NEED women engineers and computer scientists to bring their impact to technology. We need them to want to work in these important fields - and I look forward to the world they will create!

Time Machine:

In this segment each week we will give a few points about women that have accomplished a lot! We also will discuss a bit about what was happening to women during the time periods. Someone we think you would like to know more about is:

Admiral Grace Hopper

  1. She was known for her work in the innovation of computer programming, she was also the oldest serving in the Navy at the time.
  2. Grace was born in 1906. She chose to study math and physics at Vassar College and after received a Master’s and a PhD at Yale in mathematics,. This was all very uncommon for women in the early 20th century to go to school for mathematics and receive a Master’s and PhD for it.
  3. After this she went on to teach at Yale for ten years prior to joining to Navy. Once she had joined in 1943 she began to program a Mark I computer.
  4. She stayed in the Navy after the war was over and worked on the Mark II and Mark III computers. She chose to retire from the reserves in 1966, but ended up going back because of her work with computers and eventually retired in 1986.
  5. Although she retired from the Navy, she stayed working in the computer industry a while longer.
  6. Her legacy has inspired many women to also work with computers.

Inspirational Quote of the Week:

“The most damaging phrase in the language is: ‘It’s always been done that way.’”

-Grace Hopper

  • Although people have said this time and time again; we do not have to believe that just because it has always been done that way, that we should continue doing it the same. It is great to step out of your comfort zone and change things up, whether it be at work or at home!

Book Review:

Genuine driven women read lots of books! We’ll make sure to recommend a book each week that will inspire you or help you on your journey to success!

This week’s book is:

You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader

By Mark Sanborn

If you’d like to buy this book in any format, including the audiobook version for less than $10.00, click this link: http://amzn.to/2H0i7Q9

The fact is, anyone who wishes to shape their own lives and positively influence the lives of others is a leader. And that kind of leadership is a skill that can be learned by anyone, anywhere and that is what this book is about. People who lead – whether or not they have a title - strive to make things better for those around them. They increase what Mark Sanborn calls ROI. In this instance ROI doesn’t stand for “return on investment,” but rather:

Relationships, Outcomes and Improvements.

Leaders accomplish ROI through six (6) principle-based skills everyone who wishes to lead must master.

  1. Self-Mastery: Before you can reasonably expect to lead others you must first master yourself.
  2. Focus: Focus and determination beat brains and intellect every time.
  3. Power with People: “Leadership is the art of getting extraordinary performance from ordinary people.”
  4. Persuasive Communication: You might be surprised to learn that the objective of communication isn’t communicating. The objective is understanding. Genuine leaders communicate to be understood by their audience:
  5. Execution: Genuine leaders have high IQ’s. I don’t mean Intelligent Quotient, as measured by the Stanford-Binet test. I’m referring to what I call your Implementation Quotient. If there is one irrefutable test of a leader, it is the results he or she produces. Having good ideas isn’t enough—you have to be able to implement them.
  6. Giving: Robert Greenleaf, in his book Servant Leadership, writes that he believes the whole purpose of leadership is to serve. He wrote his book in 1977, at a time when leadership was often seen simply as a symbol of success and status. Greenleaf sounded a cautionary note, claiming that true leadership wasn’t about what you achieved, but what you gave. His book changed the way many think about leadership. You should strive to creating a legacy of accomplishment and contribution in everything you do.

I love this book because it reminds us all that you do not have to be the CEO of a large corporation to be considered a leader. There are many types of leadership and we see it all around us everyday. You can make a difference, you can influence others, and you can lead - from wherever you are in your organization!

Click the link to buy the book (available in several formats): http://amzn.to/2H0i7Q9

We genuinely Want to know! (Listener questions and feedback)

This is the section where you ask questions, let us know what’s on your mind or just say hello!

Are you driven to succeed? Email us at genuinedrivenwomen@gmail.com or call us at (724) DRIVEN-2 or (724) 374-8362 and leave a voice message. We’ll use your voicemails on a future podcast!


The Genuine Driven Women podcast is produced every week for your inspiration, education and enjoyment. The show notes, and so much more, can be found at genuinedrivenwomen.com.

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  • Grace Hopper:

  1. Keeping Women in STEM references:

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