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Resources on Women in STEM (March 2020): Overview

by Janet Ochs, Jennifer Parker, and Jeremy Pekarek


As noted by Julia Ballenger and coeditors Barbara Polnick and Beverly Irby in Women of Color in STEM: Navigating the Workforce, the aggregated workforce in the United States today is composed of nearly 50 percent women. Within the STEM fields, however, women represent under 25 percent. Ballenger argues that the continued economic health of the US is dependent on the recruitment and retention of women, in addition to parallel efforts targeting the fastest growing population sector, racial minorities. The purpose of the book is to raise awareness of this issue and share the work experiences of women in STEM, particularly those of minority women. Hence, the book includes contributed chapters that focus on stories of African American mathematicians or scientists, discussing the women pioneers at NASA, reviewing the status of women in academia, and exploring the challenges faced by nine female engineers in particular. The stories are supported throughout by critical theory and data analysis to describe the women’s experiences as they travel through their respective careers.

Lisa MacLean provides solid evidence that women are underrepresented in STEM fields in her book Cracking the Code: How to Get Women and Minorities into STEM Disciplines and Why We Must, which concentrates on the shortage of women in computer science. In 2013, she asserts, only 18 percent of computer science graduates were female, while women made up over 55 percent of college enrollees. MacLean examines this multifaceted problem through the interconnected issues surrounding socialization, education, work, family, financial support, bias, and lack of female role models. More importantly, MacLean offers recommended solutions for improving the situation, including such scenarios as implementing boot camps, starting a mentoring program, creating scholarships, and supporting faculty training.

Another important resource offering potential solutions to increase the number of women in STEM is the research report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, a study sponsored and published by the American Association of University Women. The report examines the academic, social and environmental factors that have led to gender inequality in the labor force. Authors Catherine Hill, Christianne Corbett, and Andresse St. Rose, all prolific investigators on this topic, discuss the roles of implicit bias and workplace bias in particular, with data from peer-reviewed research on a wide range of associated topics. Additionally, the authors develop and present a series of recommendations to increase the number of women in STEM fields.

Julie Prescott and Jan Bogg deliver an outstanding literature review on women’s underrepresentation in the Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) fields with an expanded emphasis, focusing on women in both the UK and US.  Prescott and Bogg divide their reference book, Gendered Occupational Differences in Science, Engineering, and Technology Careers, into three sections.  The first section establishes the book’s foundation and contains excellent data regarding “engendered” workplace segregation and male-dominated industries, including an entire chapter devoted to the computer games industry. The second section examines the complex factors leading to career barriers and, in parallel to the AAUW report, explores the impact of self-concept and stereotyping. The third section focuses on work-life balance, aspiration, mentoring, and networking, and concludes with suggestions for moving forward. All three sections benefit from both qualitative and quantitative research, together comprising a resource that is effectively aimed at academics or students in any discipline who are seriously interested in gender issues or in diversifying the science and technology workforce.

Finally, in their multiauthor volume The Age of STEM: Educational Policy and Practice across the World in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, coauthors/editors Brigid Freeman, Simon Marginson, and Russell Tytler shed light on STEM educational policies and programs in every corner of the globe. The book includes studies from a wide range of countries including Australia, Canada, China, Finland, France, Japan, the US, and Russia. Because the book incorporates data from around the world, it demonstrates the true scope and degree of gender disparity that still characterizes the STEM disciplines.