In 1971 the U.S. Congress designated August 26 as “Women’s Equality Day,” commemorating the 1920 certification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote. Women in our country had come a long way since the world’s first women’s rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848.
Today Women’s Equality Day also calls attention to the continuing effort toward full gender equality – in our country and around the world.
The Gender Pay Gap
Yes, it’s still true: women are paid less than men, but, as reported by Pew Research, the gap is narrowing. In 1980, estimates showed that women made 60-64% as much as men. By 2015, the situation had improved significantly, with women earning 83% as much. For women age 25-34, the gap had narrowed to 10%.
The Pew report said that even though women have increased their presence in higher-paying jobs traditionally dominated by men, the female gender is still overrepresented in lower-paying occupations, and this may contribute to the overall pay gap.
Pew’s 2013 survey attempted to identify the reason for the gap persisting today. The most likely explanation, as reported in the survey, is that women more frequently take breaks from their careers to raise a family, which often impacts their future earning potential.
Having a family doesn’t have to sound the death knoll for your career, however. Several highly-successful women these days are also mothers – think of Hillary Clinton! Another remarkable example is Marissa Mayer, who was CEO of Yahoo until very recently, and was also an executive and key spokesperson for Google. She graduated from Stanford, where she danced in the university ballet, was a member of parliamentary debate, volunteered at children's hospitals, and helped bring computer science education to schools in Bermuda. Neither her gender nor her later decision to raise a family held her back.
The same is true for many other notable women, including Indra Nooyi , chairman and chief of PepsiCo, and Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. For more inspiring names, see Forbes’ article: the World's 20 Most Powerful Moms.
The STEM Gender Gap
The National Girls Collaborative Project offers compelling statistics for girls and women in the STEM fields. Key findings indicate that:
- In K-12 education, female students' achievement in math and science is on par with male’s
- Girls participate in high-level STEM courses approximately as much as boys, with the exception of computer science and engineering classes
- Larger gaps exist between students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, or lower family income
- In higher education, greater gender disparities begin to emerge, especially for minority women
- While women receive over half of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in biological sciences, they receive far fewer in the computer sciences (17.9%), engineering (19.3%), physical sciences (39%) and mathematics (43.1%)
The report also examined the statistic for the STEM workforce, finding that women remain underrepresented in science and engineering careers – although to a lesser degree than in the past.
While more women than men graduate from college, and females make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, only 29% of the science and engineering workforce is female.
Women scientists and engineers are concentrated in different occupations than are men, with relatively high shares of women in the social sciences (62%) and biological, agricultural, and environmental life sciences (48%). Women have relatively low shares in engineering (15%) and computer and mathematical sciences (25%).
An article from the World Economic Forum says the gap may be widening, rather than shrinking: “The proportion of women receiving engineering or computer science degrees in the U.S. actually fell between 2004 and 2014… And even when women manage to get a STEM degree they are less likely to work in that field. According to the latest U.S. census, only 1 in 7 women with a degree in STEM actually works in that area. This holds true for most countries.” Knowing this, focus on empowering women to join STEM fields should be top of mind in the coming years.
Now consider that employment in the computer and info tech fields is projected to grow 12% from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average of all occupations. If women could capitalize on this kind of opportunity, it would help create greater income equality.
If we can inspire female students to enter and stay in the STEM fields, it will result in a richer future – both for those young women and for the world. Solutions presented in the article include:
Women Who Are “Rocking” STEM
DreamBox provides a fun list of “Women in STEM Who Rock,” proving that STEM isn’t just a man’s world after all:
At age 17, this female computer whiz designed an artificial brain to detect breast cancer. Her breakthrough won first prize in the 2012 Google Science Fair and is now in beta tests with two cancer research centers.
You may know Mayim Bialik as Amy on “The Big Bang Theory,” but she’s also a neuroscientist in real life.
Molecular biologist, Jennifer Lopez (not JLo), heads up the team of NASA scientists who analyze the mountains of data available in order to make sense of it all and advance our knowledge of the universe. All the datanauts are women!
Other Top Scientists at NASA:
- Dr. Ellen Stofan, Chief Scientist
- Deborah Diaz, Chief Technology Officer for IT
- Teresa Vanhooser, in charge of one of NASA’s largest rocket-building facilities
Women and Diversity in STEM
You will also be inspired by the women profiled in Refinery29’s article entitled, “12 Women whose Names You Should Know” – just a small sampling of the “women of color who pushed medicine, science, and society forward.”
Dr. Jemison was not only the first African-American woman in space; she also studied chemical engineering at Stanford University and received a medical degree from Cornell. Envision was lucky enough to feature Dr. Jemison as our Keynote Speaker for the Envision NYLF Explore STEM camp in the summer of 2015.
On June 16th, 2012, Liu was the first female Chinese astronaut to go into space. Liu qualified as a pilot in 1997, and has logged 1,680 hours of flying experience.
This talented chemist was a STEM whiz way before it was cool – back in the earliest years of the 20th century. She isolated compounds using oil from the chaulmoogra tree as a groundbreaking treatment for leprosy.
Dr. Ellen Ochoa
Dr. Ochoa joined NASA in 1988 as a research engineer and was selected as an astronaut in 1990. She was the first Hispanic woman to go to space during her nine-day mission aboard the Discovery in 1993. Since then she has flown in space four times, logging nearly 1,000 hours in orbit!
Ms. Johnson was one of NASA’s “Hidden Figures,” whose math computations were instrumental in sending the first American, Alan Shepard, into space in 1961. The blockbuster 2016 film is based partly on her life.
Additional Data and Resources to Help Inspire Girls to Bridge the Gender Gap
Inspirational Female Leaders – an Envision Blog
Girls Inc. Operation SMART (Science, Math, and Relevant Technology)
This program develops girls’ interest and skills in STEM, through hands-on activities and interactions with professionals (particularly women) in the STEM fields.
Edutopia’s list of 12 Inspiring STEM Books for Girls
A TED Talk video from Pretty Brainy:
“Here Are Four Things You Can Do Now To Help a Girl Succeed in STEM”
More profiles of rocking women in STEM, from the Dreambox article, which also provides: “8 Cool Websites to Get Girls Psyched about STEM.” That list features websites such as:
Excerpts from Dr. Ainissa Ramirez’ TED Blog (former Envision NYLF Explore STEM Keynote Speaker)
Download link for the Women’s Equality Day Brochure
Additional Equality Day Celebration Resources
The downloadable Full Report on The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap (Spring 2017)