Women make up only 28 percent of STEM professions in the United States, and they hold the secret to stopping the STEM pipeline from leaking.
According to a 2019 U.S. Census Bureau report, the amount of STEM professions held by women has only increased from 24 percent to 28 percent in the last 10 years. Among many contributing factors for this gap, an important one is the retention problem that exists in STEM. “Leaky pipeline” is a popular term used to signify this problem. We lose almost 40 percent of women who enter the field within the first 3-5 years, due to numerous factors ranging from motherhood to lack of workplace support and poor culture. One issue is that many women don’t feel seen in STEM professions, as there is a major lack of community and mentorship for women in STEM.
More than statistics
Interestingly, I came across some of these statistics at the exact time in my career when I wasn’t sure about my own future in STEM. I moved to the United States from India in 2012 to pursue a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering and started working in the manufacturing industry right after graduation. One night after dinner, I read an article that highlighted the gender gap in STEM, and the numbers shocked me. It stated that only 14 percent of mechanical engineering graduates were women. The next day at work, I saw a contrast to these statistics. I noticed that, at the time, all of the engineers on my team were women.
This contrast between statistics and my reality kept showing up and forced me to look at this leaky pipeline problem with a new perspective. I thought, why don’t we celebrate the existing 28 percent women in STEM? Why not share their stories, to not only attract more girls in STEM, but also to retain the ones like me who are already here? To accomplish exactly that, I launched my podcast Her STEM Story and, later, the Wonder Women conference. My aim was to give existing women in STEM relatable role models that can encourage them to stay and grow in their professions. I strongly believe that if women feel seen and celebrated, they are more likely to climb the ladder and bring other women along. After interviewing over 150 women in STEM and interacting with 50,000 more, I am convinced that the stories of these women hold one of the many keys that we need to unlock a gender-equal STEM workforce.
Retaining women in STEM
Her STEM Story is proof that women in STEM are more than statistics; we are part of the solution. The beauty of this solution is that we can start where we are, without anything more. We can start by sharing our struggles online or in-person with our team members, we can offer our time to mentor another woman who’s right behind us, and we can create our own community to highlight the importance of gender balance in STEM.
If you are a woman in STEM, I invite you to share your story. Don’t hesitate. We need to know why you have stayed, how your contribution is changing the world, and how your example can motivate others to join and grow in STEM. Your STEM story can be a huge contribution to fixing this leaky pipeline, one powerful woman at a time!