Career & Jobs

The Secret Success Of Women In STEM Jobs In 2020

There’s a little-known fact about the pandemic-economic recession’s impact on women. We’ve heard this crisis referred to as a “She-cession” because women lost over 5 million jobs in this recession, about 55% of all job losses. That’s because most of the jobs lost were in retail and hospitality establishments that had to close to try to stop the spread of the pandemic, jobs that are disproportionately held by women.

But, as Ariane Hegewisch, Program Director for Employment and Earnings at the Institute for Women’s Economic Research told me on my podcast recently, that only tells half the story. She said the pandemic “split women into two groups: those who work with the public and have to work outside the home,” such as those in retail and hospitality that were lost in the business closures.

The second type of jobs, she said, are those where “women can typically work from home, who typically have university degrees…whose work does not typically rely on meeting people and talking to people, something you can much more easily do on Zoom.” Hegewisch said researchers refer to this second group as “professional jobs.”

“On the whole, women in STEM jobs are more likely to be in the second, more protected jobs,” adding that while “there’s very little from last year that was not impacted by covid,…it does not look as if women in STEM jobs were particularly hard hit by the covid recession in terms of unemployment the employer imposed on them.” STEM jobs are those in science, technology, engineering and math.

These “professional jobs” were not cut, Hegewisch explained, and in some cases the number of women in them grew. For example, the number of women in architecture actually increased more than men in 2020. She also pointed out that jobs in IT grew, because of increased demand for them.

Women with small children were under severe pressure, though, from school closures, including women in STEM jobs.

Economic growth, security and STEM jobs

These STEM jobs are the jobs expected to grow exponentially too, according to the National Council of Women in Technology (NCWIT).  The U.S. Census reports that ”STEM occupations account for nearly 7% of all U.S. occupations and STEM workers play an important role in America’s innovative capacity and global competitiveness.” The Census also reported that women in STEM jobs earn more money than those in non-STEM jobs, though the gender pay gap still exists in STEM fields.

So, with fewer job cuts, increased growth, and higher pay, women in STEM jobs tend to have more job security and more options. The problem is, there just aren’t enough women in these jobs.

NCWIT’s “Scorecard,” shows women holding only 19% of computer engineering jobs, only 20% of computer programming jobs, and only 26% of computer science jobs broadly. Only 13% of engineers are women, Roberta Rincon, Ph.D., head of research at the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), told me on my podcast. SWE is one of the largest professional organizations for women in the world.  The only STEM job where women earn more than men, according to the Census Bureau, is computer network architects, but women are only 8% of them.  

McKinsey’s 2020 Women in the Workforce report says that economic gender parity in the workforce overall would add $13 trillion to the economy.  Furthermore, President Biden’s proposals of about $2.4 trillion, including on clean energy, and infrastructure (e.g., roads, bridges, parks, water, electricity, cybersecurity and broadband) would create thousands of STEM jobs.

Dearth of women in these jobs affects the data

The dearth of women in STEM jobs negatively affects the quality of the data about them too. Hegewisch said, “The biggest problem with the official surveys that we rely on a lot, the Current Population Survey or the American Communities Survey [e.g., those done by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS], is that there are not that many women in those fields.”

“The number of women isn’t plentiful enough yet to have enough data on an annual basis to come up with reliable estimates,” she added, and ”you basically need a certain number in order to say anything with certainty, and that is the problem in these specific statistics.” The BLS requires at least 50,000 of a given population in an occupation to report on that occupation in relation to that population, Hegewisch said.

The bottom line

The bottom line is, we need more women in STEM jobs to grow the economy and women in STEM jobs have greater job security and higher pay than those in non-STEM jobs.

Even in an economic crisis.

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