Factors Explaining the Gender Gap in Science and Engineering Fields


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Women have improved in their involvement in education and career, especially in the last five decades. There are areas that women have prevailed, including business, law, and medicine. Also, the number of women who are venturing into science and engineering is increasing. However, there are still more men than women in these two fields. Women, particularly in the upper levels of science and engineering, are far much lower than their male counterparts. During their elementary studies, boys and girls take science and math in almost the same numbers. Also, just as many girls as boys graduate from high school with the intentions of taking science and engineering majors as they pursue their further education. However, in the end, fewer women compared to men end up in the professions (Ceci and Williams 3158). By the time they are graduating from college, men outnumber women by far in the science and engineering careers. There are many underlying factors that play out in women being fewer than men in science and engineering careers.

Gender Differences in Science and Engineering Professions

At the time of graduating from college, men outnumber women in almost all engineering and science fields, including engineering, physics, and computer science. Women are also earning only 20% of bachelor’s degrees in these fields. At the graduate level, the representation of women in science and engineering decline further and goes down when they are transitioning to the workplace. Evidence from research indicate the reality of a growth in the number of women getting high scores in math tests, but still, there are less women who are pursuing careers related to the subject. Women comprise less than 20% of the individuals pursuing careers in engineering. The difference is revealed to have remained constant since 2002. A study by Ceci and Williams revealed that there is a huge gap in the careers; with only one-fifth of the holders of Ph.D. in physics being women and the rest are men (3158). The same is evident in other science and engineering fields.

A research by Hill, Corbett and St Rose has provided detailed and convincing evidence about the ongoing bias against women in the science and engineering fields (2). Out of all the physics professors in the US, there are only 14% females. Out of the women in the profession, African Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented. The number of women getting Ph.D.’s in science and math has been increasing, but it remains lower than men, with African-Americans and Latinos being even lower. Nationally, women are currently earning almost 60% of the overall bachelor’s degrees. However, only 20% of those women are in computer science, 18% in engineering and 20% in physics (Hatmaker 383). Evidently, women have remained unequally represented in the sciences as interplay of environmental and social factors that have made them disadvantaged. Research and opinions have gathered many explanations on the same given that this reality continues to affect the society.

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Factors Behind the Unequal Representation of Women

The reasons and factors behind the unequal representation of women in science and engineering fields have been explored in major studies. From the analysis of the studies, the factors revealed are hardly mysterious. The impact of prejudice and stereotyping at all stages of the education of the female students has played out in the issue. The education environment, as well as the job market, is not conducive for the women to get the education and excel in the challenging subjects, which have traditionally been viewed as being dominantly for men. Women in the lab and the challenging careers are something that has always been viewed from a stereotypical view, discouraging a lot of women from pursuing the careers (Hatmaker 383). Evidence from research has indicated that there is interplay of social and environmental forces contributing to the reality of women staying away from science and math and the careers associated with these subjects.

Previous beliefs pointed to the claims that men are inherently intelligent, explaining why they tended to score better than women in science and math. However, such convictions have been disqualified in research and assessments. There has been an increase in the number of female students getting high scores in science and math tests. These are the subjects that have been traditionally considered challenging for women and being predominantly for men. The outcome indicates that there are social and cultural forces that play out in any disparity evident in performance outcomes. Three decades ago, at age 13, there were about thirteen male students for every female student scoring more than 700 on the SAT math test. The gap has been closing over the years, with the current ratio being around 3:1 (Glass et al. 724). The results indicate an increase in the number of “mathematically gifted” girls which also shows that the factors behind the gap in career choices is as a result of factors outside the intellectual capability of the girls.

Social Factors

The academic achievement of women in science and engineering has a lot to do with the social norms and values that are associated with the pursuance of these subjects. The impact of societal beliefs in the performance and decisions made by the students in the course of their learning and training is an area that has attracted a great deal of research interest. The social values and beliefs tend to have an impact on the personal values of the women in society. The society has set social roles and priorities that are communicated to the children as they develop and become socialized within the society (Ryckman and Houston 128). The society has made sure that women have different goals from those pursued by their male counterparts. The differences in the goals also impact differently on the career choices of the two genders. The differences in the values impact on the positions at work as well as the compensation for the work they perform (Barko 734). The society rewards unequally the same performance by men and women.

Because of the gender roles, there are more demands that are placed on the women than on men. Based on the huge responsibilities, women lack the same chances as men for career development. The compensation for the same skills is also different for men and women in society. In terms of job-related aspects like compensation and promotion, women lack the same chances as men because women are required to balance the job and family responsibilities. The demands make it hard for the women to concentrate on the work and development of the skills to better their careers (Glass et al. 725). Most women will also give family the priority, which leaves out the demands of work unattended. In this social environment, it becomes hard for women to pursue the challenging careers, which are left out for men. This is the reason women will be found in business and medicine, which is associated with the gender role of caring, than in science and engineering.

Gender stereotypes have an important role to play in the decisions made by women in terms of their careers. Women tend to be common in medicine and nursing careers, basically because the science-based professions are associated with the caring nature of women as profiled by the society (Glass et al. 725). Conventionally, math and science have been associated with men, while arts and humanities are the subjects set aside for women. Implicit bias is widespread in society as far as education and career aspirations are concerned. Interestingly, the bias is evident even among those who are active in rejecting the stereotypes. The bias has an impact on the attitudes of the individuals towards others and at the same time impact on the possibility of the women to cultivate their personal interests in science and math (Hatmaker 384). It is interesting to note that even individuals have their own decision making affected by the personal biases that they hold. Understanding the biases is important to be able to play a role in compensating for them.

People have historically associated science and math with men, and gone to as far as holding negative opinions of females holding the “Masculine” positions in society. As a result, women scientists or engineers are more likely to be viewed from a negative light, discouraging many from pursuing careers in such fields. It does not appear rewarding to spend time and other resources pursuing the challenging careers if the society does not appreciate and reward the effort. According to research, women are judged as being less competent than their male counterparts in “male” roles unless there is a clear success in the work they perform. Hence, unlike men, women have to go through an additional stress of proving their worth in the event that they venture into the “male” professional world. A woman is also regarded less likeable when she decides to be proficient in a” masculine” job (Hatmaker 385). For success in the workplace, likability and proficiency are necessary, which places an additional burden and demand on the woman. For higher chances of social approval, women are more likely to pursue careers in arts and humanities.

Environmental Factors

The conduciveness of the learning environment has a lot to do with the performance outcomes of the female students. A study by Hill, Corbett and St Rose established that where the students are getting adequate support and motivation from the teachers and the parent they tend to perform well in the most challenging subjects (2). When these significant others encourage the female students by telling them that they are capable of expanding their learning and experience, they tend to give great performance in math and other science subjects. Such students show intentions to continue studying the subjects and are more likely to pursue careers in science and engineering. Intellectual stimulation has a positive relationship with a supportive learning environment. Believing in the potential of the students and encouraging them to study hard has a positive relationship with better outcome. Hence, poor performance and lack of interest in the subject is associated with lack of adequate support.

Negative stereotypes are the basis for the lack of motivation for the female students to pursue careers in science and math related fields. Without the “growth mindset” environment because of the negative stereotypes and prejudice is the basis for the lack of support and motivation for the female students. The belief that male students are intellectually endowed to perform well in math and science has a detrimental effect on the performance of the female students. The problem is made worse where the beliefs are held by the teachers and parents as, in the environment, they are less likely to get the necessary support (Hill, Corbett and St Rose 5). The negative stereotypes concerning female students’ abilities in the subject tend to measurably reduce test performance of the students. The stereotypes have also been revealed to lower the aspirations of girls for engineering and science professions. The message communicated about the expectations of the girls will either hinder or support their performance and career intentions.

The environment that women get an education is quite limiting as they lack female role models. As long as there are not enough women to look up to, there is no motivation to pursue careers in science and engineering. In a search for famous scientists, there are no names of women that come up. In fact, women only come up when one is searching for famous artists and nurses. Even though there are women scientists and engineers, they are hidden in the shadows of their male counterparts. The history of female scientists is normally a story about unrecognized talents as well as great male prejudice. The work of the women who have succeeded in the careers has not been taken seriously, and when they are, they are viewed alongside the success of the male partners (Ceci and Williams 3160). Despite the success of the few women scientists and engineers, the society does not appear to notice. The inadequate recognition of the major efforts put by women in the fields has dissuaded some from pursuing the careers.

Strategies to Improve Women’s Prospect in Science and Engineering

Women are as capable and competent as men in science and engineering. Efforts to improve the prospects of women in the career paths that are traditionally viewed as men’s should focus on addressing the biases and stereotypes the society holds for women and career achievement. After all, research has discounted the stereotypical view of men being more intellectually endowed than men in science and math. Additionally, women are as intelligent as men and are capable of working in the same professions (Pinker 741). It is, therefore, necessary to change the view of the society by getting rid of the stereotypes right from the early education days. Parents and teachers should communicate the message of success and competence to the children from when they are young. An environment should be created that is enabling to the girls to excel in math and science and to pursue careers along those lines. As a result, the gap between men and women in science and engineering fields will close.

The work environment for the women should be made more conducive to encourage them to pursue careers in science and engineering. Compensation and promotions should be encouraged on merit and not on the basis of gender. Women should be remunerated the same as men for the same work and positions in the organization. Promotions should also be made depending on the contribution of the individual and not based on gender. The work environments should also accommodate the different demands of women, at home and in the workplace. As long as there are accommodations for women, they will not shy away from pursuing the careers in science and engineering. Women will put more effort in their education and training in science and math as long as they know that there is a work environment that is prepared for their contribution (Boeren 338-339). Time and other resources will be spent in preparing for a career that is challenging as long as it will be rewarding. Women will also compete with men in the subjects because the career prospects will be the same for the two genders.


The world has been changing, but there is one area that has not experienced much transformation. The place of women in the science and engineering career environments has not changed much for decades. Women have made major strides in education and professional life. However, they remain underrepresented in science and engineering fields, which continue to be dominated by men. There are major factors behind this reality, which have nothing to do with the intellectual capability of women as compared to that of the men. Social and environmental factors are revealed in research to play the greatest role in the reality of fewer women than men pursuing the science and math related careers. Stereotypes and biases should be addressed as they are the basis for the continued inequality directed towards women in education and workplace. Addressing the social constructs will see a growth in women in science and engineering careers.

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