The STEM acronym was introduced in 2001 by scientific administrators, most specifically Judith Ramelay, of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). The organization previously used the acronym SMET when referring to the career fields in those disciplines or a curriculum that integrated knowledge and skills from the field of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology, but the acronym SMET apparently did not have “the sound that was appealing,” and was therefore changed to STEM.
In searching the Education Week archives, it is apparent that educators were beginning to combine the terms long before 2001. For example, a piece from January 30, 1985 indicated that a policy forum would address “whether recent initiatives to improve education in mathematics, science, engineering and other technology-related subjects are likely to meet the country’s needs.” Other congressional caucus and initiatives followed, and by 2008, STEM had become a common educational term. It was later modified to STEAM, to recognize the contribution of the arts.
Throughout the years, however, one thing has not changed, and that is the ratio of males to females in STEM/STEAM careers. In 2019, it was noted that
though women represent nearly half of the workforce, they only represent 27% of the STEM workforce. (US Government Census Report). Though this is an increase from 8% in 1970, it still is a woeful representation.
According to US Census Bureau reports, STEM/STEAM careers include these major occupations: “computer related professionals (including computer and information systems managers), mathematicians, engineers (including architectural and engineering managers and sales engineers), life science, physical science and social science (including natural sciences managers, but excluding occupational health and safety specialists and technicians.) Other STEM/STEAM-related careers include architects (except naval), and health care and technical practitioners (including medical and health services managers).”
Over the last few decades, I have been watching this lack of women in STEM/STEAM careers with great concern, and this concern was magnified by a recent article in
The Journal: Transforming Education Through Technology. In this article, author Kristal Kuykendall reported that “A new study of YouScience aptitude assessments completed by 116,372 female high school juniors and seniors across the nation shows that female students had 10 times more aptitude than interest in careers in architecture and engineering, and nearly four times more aptitude than interest for careers in computers and mathematics.” This does not portend well for both girls and our nation. The low level of interest expressed in STEM careers is especially concerning given the projected growth in STEM-related jobs; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts STEM jobs will grow by at least 8% annually through 2029, as the number of non-STEM jobs grows at less than half that pace.
So, why are women less attracted to STEM/STEAM careers, and what can be done about this? To find out more, I contacted a number of my friends and family (males and females) who are employed in STEM/STEAM careers for their insights and advice, and I thank them for their willingness to engage in discussion.
First of all, this report, Why Women Leave Engineering, from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee emerged. Nadya Fouad, a UWM distinguished professor of educational psychology, has dedicated her career to exploring how individuals decide on their careers, as well as the broader impact those decisions have. She has been instrumental in studying why certain populations are underrepresented in the workforce, especially in STEM fields. In 2007, she published a study that researched what barriers deterred middle and high school females from pursuing science and math. Among her findings was the importance of instilling confidence in girls early on. So how do we do this? My contacts suggested the following ideas:
As always, I welcome your thoughts. Together we grow.
Jackie Drummer, Past President and Board Advisor
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
(WATG would like to extend a huge thank you to Dr. Martha Aracely Lopez of Milwaukee Public Schools for translating this article into Spanish for our Spanish-speaking families and educators. The translation can also be found in our website blogs.)
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.