- Written by Donna Milgram, Executive Director & Founder, IWITTS
How many women are in your technology classrooms?
Find out what IWITTS is doing to get more women in the picture and why it matters.
The Institute for Women in Trades, Technology & Science's (IWITTS) work focuses on ensuring that working women are part of the science and technology landscape with an emphasis on technician-level careers. Sometimes we are asked, "Why focus on careers at the technician level? Every girl and woman should have the opportunity to go to four-year colleges."
True, however, if we only introduce women and girls to engineering and science careers that require a bachelor's degree or graduate education, we will have missed the opportunity to impact the majority of women and girls who come from working families and who attend community colleges, not four-year universities.
IWITTS strives to bridge the gender gap in technology for these women and girls in particular because 1) they have made the fewest inroads in the science and technology workforce and 2) they are among those most in need of better jobs.
Women and girls of working families deserve entrée to the jobs of the future -- green jobs, biotechnology, medical information technology and construction all provide a pathway out of pink-collar poverty for everyday working women.
Statistics show women not in the picture
The percentage of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education and related occupations is still very small. This is especially true at the technician level, where women have made fewer gains in the workplace than at the four-year college and post-graduate level. While occupational segregated data by gender is scarce both in the education arena and the workplace, the general consensus is that women are underrepresented in STEM with the exception of biology related fields.
As a result, there are still many classes and workplaces today with no women or girls.
According to the most recent data available from the National Center for Education Statistics, within the U.S. Department of Education, young women in high school made up only 14.5% of engineering technologies concentrators, 8.5% of manufacturing, 15% in computer and information sciences and 9.6% in construction and architecture (2005). Nationally, in 2007 females made up 58% of two-year college enrollment, however, in 2006-2007 females received only 15% of the A.S. degrees in engineering technologies. According to the National Science Foundation, females made up only 17.4% of undergraduate engineering students in 2007.
According to the US Department of Labor Women's Bureau, in 2008 women were only 11.5% of engineers and 22.4% of computer programmers and 20.9% of computer software engineers. Women at the trade and technical level are even fewer. They made up 7.5% of installation, maintenance and repair workers, 4.9% of surveying and mapping technicians, 3.3% of Telecommunication line installer and repairers, 1.6% of automotive service technicians and 1% of electricians.
The majority of women work in nonprofessional occupations -- 60% according to the Women's Bureau, and in 2009 the median weekly earnings of women who worked full-time were $657 or 80% of men's $819. Most of this differential in wages has to do with occupational segregation by sex. The top 20 leading occupations for women in 2009 included secretaries, cashiers, home health aides, childcare workers, maids, retails salespersons, receptionists and office clerks -- all low paying occupations without natural career ladders up.
Absence of women means missed opportunities
The absence of women from STEM education and careers affects more than the women; it is a missed opportunity for those fields. Women bring a different perspective that shapes and influences STEM disciplines. Research shows that women -- as a group -- have a greater interest than males in how technology will be applied, in particular to help others, and women naturally have a greater understanding of what is important to and appeals to women.
Here are just two examples of how women in STEM enhance the field from a substantive perspective.
- Dr. Bernadine Healy, the first woman to direct the National Institutes of Health (NIH), established a policy whereby the NIH would only fund clinical trials that included both men and women when the condition being studied affected both genders. Prior to this requirement, many NIH clinical trials did not include women, and subsequently research recommendations did not take into account the differing biology of women and men, and in some cases made recommendations harmful to women.
- The Zimmer® Gender Solutions™ Knee, which was originally conceived of by a woman engineer. Nearly two-thirds of knee replacements in the U.S. are done on women; however, until the Gender Knee was developed the model for a knee implant was a male knee, which often did not fit the shape and size of women's anatomy. The Gender Knee is specifically designed to fit the average woman and is a much more successful implant as a result.
Having more women in the picture will not only help women themselves -- it will also help society benefit from their expertise -- whether it's ensuring women are included in clinical trials or developing a prosthetic knee that works better for women. We are all enriched when women fully contribute to the advancement of science and technology.
Women CAN be part of the picture
IWITTS's national and state demonstration projects have positive outcomes that prove that proactive recruitment coupled with retention solutions can significantly increase the number of women in STEM. IWITTS provides educators with the tools to close the gender gap for women and girls in technology.
I look forward to the day when it is normal to see a woman electrician, auto technician, pilot or engineer. Then the picture will look like this: