Date: June 2nd 2020
The past ten years have seen a rise in focus on employment in STEM careers, namely technology and computer science jobs. Jobs in computing, medicine, and engineering have consistently made headlines for early and ongoing earning potential making up 17 of the top 20 highest paying entry level jobs and 12 of the top 15 highest paying jobs overall based on median salary information released by Glassdoor in 2019. In addition to the earning potential in these fields the number of jobs across all STEM fields was predicted to grow. Based on statistics released by The Bureau of LaborStatistics jobs in computing were predicted to grow 13% by 2024 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite women comprising 50% of the eligible workforce, the STEM workforce is only 25% women. Efforts to increase this number have focused primarily on attracting young women in middle and high school to STEM through camps, extracurricular programs, and changing public rhetoric.
Now, during the employment crisis caused by theCOVID-19 pandemic, women are unemployed at a rate of 16% compared to 14.7% overall. This is primarily because women, and especially women of color, are overrepresented in those sectors hardest hit; namely leisure, hospitality and education. Pushing toward gender parity in sectors that have historically been skewed away from women is critical to ensuring that the next economic downturn does not have the opportunity to disproportionately impact women.
The importance of jobs in STEM in particular can not be more heavily underscored than during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Not only is there immense pressure on the scientific community to develop tests and a vaccine but also for technology to enable virtual work, learning, and life at home. Outside of those jobs that are deemed essential, there is also a disparity in how different industries and roles have been able to transition to working from home. 78% of computer and mathematical jobs are eligible for telecommuting compared to just13% in service industries like leisure and hospitality. Additionally, while some tech companies servicing entertainment or transportation services (e.g.Uber) have had to make massive layoffs, many others have fared much better with few software developers filing for unemployment in hubs like Seattle (1%) and many companies continuing to hire for technical roles.
The lasting impact of current economic conditions and unemployment is certainly not yet known but there is a short-term opportunity for those who have been laid off and have computer access to build marketable technology skills that may help them find their next role. Computer literacy had already become a prerequisite for most jobs over the past several years. Tools like the Microsoft Office suite, email, andSlack are pervasive in any office job -- and now virtual connection tools like Zoom or Google Meet can be added to the list. Becoming more comfortable with these applications or going so far as enrolling in a coding bootcamp to learn the in-demand skills needed to be a software developer or work in cloud computing may help get women back to work sooner and into higher paying jobs. However, while there is an opportunity to do self-guided learning(e.g. YouTube tutorials or open source information) other, guided training programs may be cost prohibitive especially in these uncertain times.
While identifying and training candidates with new, marketable skills is one immediate step to getting women into STEM, it is vital to review the current career pathways to continue to create long-term opportunities as well. Many existing programs to encourage girls’ participation in STEM are focused on middle and high school students. Studies have shown that students 12-18 are learning foundational skills and building lasting interests, but also becoming more vulnerable to gender stereotypes. Organizations like Girls Who Code offer after-school programs and summer camps that provide a critical combination of role models, community, and a safe space to learn (and especially to fail) in addition to teaching technical skills. This combination seems to be working. Girls Who Code has served over 300,000girls to date and reports 15x the national average for alumni of their programs selecting computer science-related majors once they reach college.
This year Girls Who Code expanded to college campuses as well to address another interesting facet of the pipeline for women in STEM; once women select and pursue a degree in a STEM field they are less likely than their male counterparts to end up working in their studied fields. 38% of women who received relevant degrees pursued computer, science, or math careers out of college compared to over 50% of men from the same majors. This could be because the women had other offers, but could also be due to unconscious bias during the recruitment process or lack of other women in the company. Another contributing factor may be the perception that the work is difficult especially if trying to maintain a work-life balance particularly as a working mom.
Unfortunately, supporting women at each stage of their career development will not be an overnight fix. Investing in short and long-term solutions to support economic opportunity and empowerment must continue to be the focus and an investment in the marketable and needed skills for STEM careers is one opportunity to do so.
In coming months SheSyndicate will continue to partner with those organizations who are already making strides to ensure that the next generation of women sees STEM fields as a viable option and to support those women who select these paths to cash in on the investment they have made in themselves.
Watch this space!
If you are interested in getting involved in mentoring or improving your own computer literacy please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org