On January 20, 2021, history was made in the United States, as former senator Kamala Harris became the nation’s first female vice president. Harris’s prodigious feat has served as inspiration for countless young women, especially those of color. What’s more, the event could also help bring in more female candidates to traditionally male-dominated fields, including those within the STEM disciplines.
First introduced in the 1980s, the now-common term is an acronym for “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” And make no mistake: Encouraging as many bright young minds into the STEM fields as possible is of paramount importance during our current pandemic. Within industries ranging from environmental science to healthcare, medical tech, and beyond, there exists a renewed focus on stopping the spread of COVID-19, as well as curbing future public health crises before they start.
Despite recent strides for women in and out of the STEM fields, however, we still have a long way to go. Interestingly, current events such as the pandemic and the swearing-in of Vice President Harris may prove to bring more young women into the STEM fields. Here’s what you need to know about smashing glass ceilings and ensuring that women in STEM are no longer left behind.
The STEM Gender Gap: By the Numbers
The STEM fields of study encompass a wide range of disciplines, from anatomy and botany to chemistry, environmental science, and computer programming. As such, the idea of a pronounced gender gap may seem far-fetched. Yet the numbers are telling and point to a widespread problem in regards to gender disparity.
While some STEM fields are more diverse than others, women are overwhelmingly the minority. According to Maryville University, “women are far less likely to graduate with a STEM degree or enter a career in STEM compared to their male counterparts.” Further, women in STEM fields also reportedly experience unfair working conditions and sexual harassment in greater numbers than males and are typically paid less.
The STEM gender gap is especially pronounced in the fields of engineering and computer science. Women only received 20% of engineering degrees awarded in 2015, and the number of females with computer science degrees is even smaller. From a public health standpoint, this type of disparity is considered harmful, as diversity helps spawn innovation and fuels technological advancements.
Using STEM to Move Industries Forward
The good news is that the STEM fields have made huge strides in recent years in terms of recruiting a more diverse candidate base. Interestingly, the COVID-19 pandemic is playing a part as well. Researchers in England recently determined that pandemic response has spawned an increased interest in numerous STEM fields, especially those related to medicine and health care.
And as STEM careers become more popular, they’re also becoming more “cool.” The aforementioned study also found that doctors, inventors, and engineers now rank among the coolest careers, at least according to young people between the ages of 10 and 18. The sudden popularity of STEM fields in the aftermath of the pandemic is a striking example of just how pronounced an effect current events can have on career choices.
But it’s not only the realm of healthcare that’s moving forward thanks to women. Within various industries that are traditionally male-dominated, such as automotive repair, female candidates are changing the paradigm. Between 2011-2018, for example, the number of female mechanics in the U.K. grew from a negligible 4% of the industry to about 10%. While there’s still a long way to go in terms of gender equality, it’s a positive step in the right direction.
At the Forefront of STEM Recruiting Trends
The sudden coolness of STEM careers notwithstanding, we’re still in the early stages of understanding the true impact of COVID-19, and the legacy it will leave behind. In some ways, the pandemic has made us more adaptable and perhaps even more compassionate, as we make small sacrifices and distance ourselves from loved ones in the name of public health.
It is these and similar traits that future recruiters will look for in potential candidates. Whether you’re applying to an engineering program at a state college or hoping to land a coveted STEM job, make sure to emphasize your soft skills. Especially among female and other non-traditional candidates, such as those who identify as LGTBQ, both hard and soft skills are of paramount importance.
Indeed, data indicates that job candidates who identify as LGBTQ may face hiring and employment discrimination in far greater numbers than their cis counterparts. To combat this type of hiring disparity, about 10% of LGBTQ job applicants have reportedly altered their resumes to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity from prospective employers.
But there is good news, even if you’re concerned about discrimination based on your gender or lifestyle: Future employers want to see that you’re a well-rounded candidate, no matter your gender, and highlighting traits such as adaptability and compassion can make all the difference. Hiring managers are increasingly on the lookout for employees who work well under pressure and can adapt to challenges without missing a beat. Your personal skill set can even help strengthen your resume, giving you an edge over your peers in an increasingly competitive landscape.
Whatever your chosen career path, don’t underestimate the role of current events in helping to determine your future. You may find yourself on a completely unexpected career path as the result of your experiences with COVID-19, for example, or because you were inspired by a historic trailblazer such as Kamala Harris. Current events can even help bring about systemic change, as well as impacting social trends and public policy into the future. Within the STEM fields, we may find that current events additionally bring in a greater number of female candidates, to ensure that women in STEM are no longer forgotten.
Noah Rue is a journalist and content writer, fascinated with the intersection between global health, personal wellness, and modern technology. When he isn’t searching out his next great writing opportunity, Noah likes to shut off his devices and head to the mountains to disconnect.