Women in Innovation (Blog Post)
|Title||Women in Innovation (Blog Post)|
|Notes||Published as "Women in STEM: Closing the Gap"|
|© edegan.com, 2016|
A blog post about the lack of representation of women within the innovation sector, why this is a problem, and what policies may be beneficial to remedying it. Check the google document for the most recent version of the blog post.
Economists around the world emphasize the benefits of integrating more women into the workforce. While we are seeing slow growth in women’s presence in many sectors, the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields at the core of innovation seem to be especially lacking in girl power.
In 2014, women comprised approximately 47 percent of the U.S. workforce. Within the innovation-focused STEM fields, women only account for about 19.5 percent. This underrepresentation of women is not only holding women back from success and achieving their full potential, but also preventing the U.S. economy from realizing the wide array of benefits which come from increasing women’s labor force participation.
Why We Need More Women in STEM
When women get involved in STEM fields, they are rewarded. Compared to similar women who are working in non-STEM fields, the salaries of women who work in STEM are 33 percent higher. For men, the difference is only 25 percent. Not only are salaries higher, but the gender pay gap is also smaller. A 2011 U.S. Department of Commerce study found that the average gap is 21 percent in non-STEM jobs, but for STEM jobs, this gap is only 14 percent.
Women aren’t the only ones who benefit. Companies that place an emphasis on gender equality and hiring women see positive impacts on their productivity and success. For companies marketing to women, the Harvard Business Review has shown that having input from women improves their “likelihood of success” by 144 percent. Innovation fields, along with many other business sectors, can benefit from having female perspectives on their project teams to help reach female customers.
Gender diversity in the workplace also enhances creativity among workers. When researchers at the University of Maryland and Columbia University teamed up to study top leadership in Standard and Poor’s Composite 1500 list, they found that female representation in leadership positions leads to a $42 million increase in average firm value. They also saw that companies which emphasized innovation received higher financial gains when women were in top management.
U.S. Initiatives to Empower STEM Women
The Obama Administration has made efforts to increase women’s involvement in STEM. In 2009, President Barack Obama created the White House Council on Women and Girls, a team that coordinates U.S. policy, legislation, and programs to address the needs of women and girls. Recognizing the potential economic and social benefits, the Council has made women’s involvement in STEM a priority. Pursuing this goal, they have announced multiple initiatives, like Title IX protections for equal education, work-life balance programs, and speaking tours for successful women innovators, among others. The administration also made efforts to eliminate the gender pay gap through the creation of an Equal Pay Task Force in 2010 and an executive order affecting federal contractors in 2014.
These actions alone cannot address the full extent of gender inequality. However, they may improve the situation. Policies that encourage girls to explore their interest in STEM give girls the opportunity to develop passions in these fields early in life. Once these passions become careers, flexible and non-discriminatory policies in the workplace can incentivize women to stay involved in these fields throughout their careers.
We cannot easily predict whether these types of policies will prevail. Inevitably, the results of the presidential election will have an impact on the direction of these programs.
Women in STEM around the World
In North America and Western Europe, on average, only 32 percent of researchers, defined as “professionals engaged in the conception or creation of new knowledge, products, processes, methods and systems and also in the management of the projects concerned,” are women. Japan, one of the leading tech development nations, has a mere 15 percent. Surprisingly, Central Asia has the highest average proportion of women researchers, with 47 percent.
The United Kingdom ranks second in world scientific achievement, only behind the United States. 35.7 percent of researchers in the UK are women. Within solely STEM fields, though, the proportion of women is even lower: only 14.4 percent. This trend is seen across many of the nations with the highest investments and achievements in STEM.
Differences in gender norms affect incentives for women to enter these fields. In regions where women are expected to be caretakers and homemakers, like India, the participation of women in STEM and the workforce in general are drastically low. Certain areas in Asia, where gender stereotypes regarding math and science are not as prevalent, have higher proportions of STEM interest from women than men.
Culture clearly has an effect on the proportion of women who get involved in STEM professions. A prevailing stereotype exists in American society that women’s abilities are inferior to men’s when it comes to math and science. Although this idea has been proven untrue, the societal beliefs and expectations can have an effect on women’s empowerment to work in STEM. Research by Claude M. Steele shows the effects of stereotypes on performance and self-perception. If we want to see a change in the proportion of women in this sector, we need to change our culture.
What is the Future for Women in STEM?
Remedying the gender gap in innovation fields is not a simple or quick process. It requires a combination of education for girls, policy changes that eliminate barriers for women workers, cultural changes, shifts in societal prioritization of gender inequality, and many other factors. At the current progress rate, we are a long way from gender equality. However, with concerted efforts on the part of policymakers, educators, and employers, there is hope for a brighter future.