Utah Women and Stem: A 2022 Update

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) are expanding faster and pay better than other careers. The median annual wage for STEM occupations in 2020 was nearly $90,000, more than double the median annual wage for all occupations (about $42,000). STEM opportunities abound in Utah, one of the top 10 states for tech job growth, net tech employment concentration, and net tech employment job gains in 2020. In fact, Salt Lake City is ranked the second-best city in the country for professional opportunities in STEM.  

Yet, despite the abundance of STEM opportunities, Salt Lake City was ranked 43rd among other metro areas for “STEM-Friendliness,” a metric that, in part, considers the gender disparity in STEM field occupations and degrees. Nationally and locally, fewer women obtain STEM-related college degrees and work in STEM-related occupations, and they leave STEM careers once employed at disproportionate rates compared to men. Hence, the US and Utah STEM workforce remains predominately male. Recognizing the role that women contribute to a strong statewide workforce, educational and civic leaders are working to increase opportunities and pathways for more Utah women to be aware of, enter into, and thrive in STEM fields. In 2016, the Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) released a research snapshot entitled “Utah Women and STEM.” This snapshot updates, expands on, and compares data of the three key areas featured in that snapshot:  

  1. Current STEM employment data;  
  2. Possible reasons for the STEM gender gap; and
  3. Ongoing efforts to increase diverse participation and success in STEM fields.

Employment Data 

Employment in STEM has grown from about 9 million workers nationally in 2016 to more than 10.5 million in 2021, 6.9% of all workers nationally. While STEM jobs continue to have strong growth, women remain vastly underrepresented in these occupations globally, nationally, and in Utah—though they have made gains over time. Nationally, women make up approximately 27% of STEM workers, compared to 21% in Utah. Within STEM professional fields, women tend to be concentrated in the social and life sciences and have much lower shares in computer and engineering fields.  

Possible Reasons for the Gender Gap 

Differences between men and women in STEM education fields persist worldwide and begin as early as elementary school. Although most young children have similar capabilities in math and science, many girls lose confidence in math by third grade. By the time students enter college, men dominate the STEM majors, particularly math-intensive fields such as physics, engineering, and computer science. In fact, men outnumber women almost four to one in STEM majors. 

Cultural gender norms and attitudes that delineate many STEM fields and occupations as masculine may be one reason that women remain underrepresented in both STEM degree fields and the STEM workforce. Gender stereotypes about women’s abilities impact girls’ and women’s own internal biases, undermining their confidence in technical subjects and discouraging them from pursuing STEM jobs. This is especially problematic for girls and women of color. These socialized attitudes can also lead to bias in educators, colleagues, or superiors at work, who may, either openly or tacitly, underestimate the abilities of or discriminate against female students, peers, or subordinates.  

Efforts to Increase Participation 

Promoting a strong female STEM workforce in Utah requires effort from multiple stakeholders, including education providers, policy makers, and businesses. In order to ensure the sufficient local supply of qualified employees to fill future STEM jobs, Utah stakeholders must continue to increase efforts in promoting STEM fields (and specifically women in STEM) at all levels, including K-12, higher education, and professional employment.  

Conclusion 

Increasing the number of women in STEM degrees and occupations will result in educational, societal, and economic benefits in Utah and around the globe. Mirroring national trends, the growing number of employment opportunities in Utah’s STEM sector requires both more STEM talent overall and more equitable gender representation. Accordingly, Utah needs significant investment into efforts that encourage and mentor Utah girls and young women to pursue STEM education and careers, and industries must continue to improve the corporate climate to attract and retain women in STEM fields. This includes family-friendly policies that support working parents with flexible schedules, paid leave, and remote work opportunities. Successful efforts to increase female participation in STEM fields will strengthen all of Utah. 

To learn more about Utah women and STEM, read the full snapshot.

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