The percentage of women pursuing education in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math hasn’t changed much in the last several years, according to a research snapshot released Thursday.
The Utah Women and Leadership Project at Utah Valley University looked into how many women had been awarded STEM degrees in Utah’s public universities and colleges for its August research brief, turning back to a topic it had previously tackled in 2013.
From 2012 to 2017, the number of STEM degrees awarded at public Utah universities and colleges increased from 2,358 to 3,279. In 2012, 20% of those degrees went to women. Five years later, that only increased to 21%.
“My hope was that we would at least see some increases,” said Susan Madsen, the director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project.
Madsen said the organization wasn’t planning to do an update on the topic so soon, but then got requests from female leaders within Utah’s technology sector to look at the numbers.
The research brief, written by UVU’s Cheryl Hanawics and Susan Thackeray, along with Madsen, found that women make up 47% of the national workforce and 28% of the tech workforce. In Utah, those rates are much lower, with women consisting of 44% of the workforce and 19% of computer and science engineering fields.
From 2012 to 2017, UVU saw its number of women receiving STEM degrees rise from 305 to 335. During that same time, the percentage of women being awarded STEM degrees at UVU dropped from 44% in 2012 to 33% in 2017, making UVU the public college or university in Utah with the lowest percentage of female students receiving STEM degrees.
Madsen said there needs to be women pursuing STEM degrees in order to see an increase in women in the professional fields. She said there’s been efforts to draw more women to STEM, including from the Women Tech Council and at the university level.
“I think we see some increases, some steady ones,” Madsen said. “So we feel like we are going in the right direction.”
She said there is still work to do. University faculty don’t always understand the differences in teaching men and women, she said, or know that women speak 75% less when they are surrounded by men.
“Oftentimes if there’s only a few women in the class, they aren’t going to engage as much and that affects the learning process and the people around them,” Madsen said.
Madsen recalled a story she’d heard from a female student who was the only woman in her STEM class. When she entered the room, the professor assumed the student was in the wrong place.
“The unconscious bias is strong, and it impacts education and decisions,” Madsen said.
Majority-male workplaces can also create cultures that are not attractive to women. Madsen said many tech companies have cultures that are masculine and focus around competition, which often doesn’t retain female workers.
“Women can be just as successful, but many of them don’t thrive in those kinds of environments,” Madsen said.