These numbers are reflected in the education system. The City University of New York (CUNY) is the city’s public university system and the nation’s largest urban university, with three-quarters of NYC’s college students totaling over 540 thousand. Within CUNY women make up thirty-seven percent of those enrolled in STEM subjects. But while women comprise half of science and math students, only seventeen percent of technology and engineering students are female.(4)
Compared with their counterparts in other professions, women in STEM earn one-third higher wages.(2) Therefore, by being underrepresented on college and university courses, women are being excluded from higher-earning professions. Moreover, increasing the number of women in STEM is, “important for the construction of knowledge and for the enterprise of science itself.”(5)
All STEM fields are not created equally
In NYC an estimated ten thousand people are employed in the physical and life sciences, with a mean wage just over $73 thousand.(3,6) Twelve thousand engineers, and over fifty-six thousand computer scientists, however, earn $94-$98 thousand.(3,6) At CUNY just fifteen percent of engineering degrees, and twenty-three percent of computer science degrees, were granted to women in 2011-12.(7)
Computing is of particular relevance to NYC as it is one of the largest growing employment areas in the city, which has the nation’s fastest growing tech sector.(8) The main problem companies are encountering in this emerging “Silicone Alley” is a shortage of talent. By 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer-related jobs in the US with universities only producing enough graduates to fill one third of those.(9)
Strategies being employed to address the imbalance
Societal assumptions and gender stereotypes about women’s roles are largely responsible for gender disparity in STEM.(10,11,12,13) Women are underrepresented at all levels in engineering, computer science, and technology, and are lost higher up the ladder in the life sciences and mathematics where they initially enroll in good numbers.
From an early age, well-designed educational toys can help shape how girls view science, and open doors for inquisitive minds. The American Association of University Women recently compiled a list of gifts for girls, including toys which incorporate elements of engineering, electronics, and astronomy.(14) One example is Goldie Blox, launched in 2012 by a female engineering graduate, in which storybooks featuring a female inventor are paired with construction toys.
A lack of sufficient pre-college STEM education and support for girls may explain why, once enrolled at college, most women who drop out of STEM transfer into other courses, whereas most men who drop out leave college altogether.(15) Exposing K-12 girls to subjects they might previously have thought of as ‘male’ empowers them to follow their interests regardless of outdated stereotypes. Programs geared towards getting young people interested in STEM may not always focus solely on girls, but they are a valuable part of improving gender balance as long as they have sufficient female participation.
To mend the leaky pipeline and retain the women who drop out, continued support including mentorship and providing positive role models is crucial.
At CUNY programs have been established to increase the STEM pipeline for women from kindergarten though to PhD level and beyond, starting with Science Now, which provides science and engineering research projects for K-12 students.(16) At the college level, CUNY Women in Science holds workshops, science events, and symposia such as “Inspiring Women Scientists: Next Generation’s Leaders,” and a National Science Foundation-funded initiative called RAISE-W uses hands-on laboratory experience and a coaching regime to empower women.(17,18,19) Campus groups such as CUNY Women in STEM play an important role in giving students a platform.(20) Furthermore, CUNY actively supports female faculty in commercializing their technological and scientific innovations through I-Corps, and a planned Hub for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.(21,22)
In January, 2014, a $30 thousand Elsevier Foundation grant was awarded to Dr Preethi Radhakrishnan, a CUNY Professor, to design a new program to encourage women to pursue STEM careers.(23) This initiative will run from March 2014 to June 2016, and will be open to all CUNY community college students, both female and male. Workshops, research internships, scholarships, and childcare assistance will be offered, and data measuring the success of the scheme will be used to apply for additional funding to broaden the program’s scope.(23,24)
Outside the city’s public education system, groups exist which use innovative approaches to get young people excited about STEM. FIRST, which was founded in 1989, is a K-12 program culminating each year in an international robotics competition. Courses are run specifically to encourage girls to get involved, and according to FIRST, their female participants are four times as likely to study science and engineering.(25,26) However, last month an article by a NYC-based female contestant questioned the level of involvement by girls.(27) FIRST’s Research and Evaluations Analyst is currently interviewing participating coaches, mentors, and students to better understand how they recruit young women to their teams, what is most effective in engaging young women, and which qualities about the program are important to them.(28)
Launched in 2012 in NYC, Girls who Code inspires and educates girls by providing intensive instruction in robotics, web design, and mobile development, as well as mentorship by successful female role models. The Girl Scout Research Initiative commissioned a report in 2012, which included recommendations for how to encourage girls into STEM.(29) The Girl Scouts, including the NY chapter, have a large number of STEM programs including one where they learn about engineering by designing equipment for survival on an imaginary camping trip after an earthquake. Girl Scouts can receive badges in various STEM fields including ‘Computer Expert’, ‘Website Designer’, and ‘Home Scientist’. In collaboration with the New York Hall of Science, Best Buy, and the New York Academy of Sciences, programs for older girls including computing and robotics are also being developed.(30)
Many more similar groups appear in the city each year, hopefully complementing school initiatives and providing a launch pad for girls to pursue subjects such as engineering, computer sciences, and physics.
City and State support for gender equity in STEM
CUNY’s funding comes from the State and City of New York, and tuition revenue.(31) NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo recently released his 2014-15 Executive Budget proposal, which includes $8 million in funding for STEM scholarships to the State University of New York (SUNY) or CUNY for the top ten percent of high school graduates.(32) His budget does not however mention any programs to increase the number of female STEM students at schools or colleges.
During his run for office, NYC’s first new Mayor in twelve years - Bill de Blasio – spoke of creating a, “more solid budgetary footing” for CUNY.(33) He proposed ending $150 million in corporate tax breaks, and investing that money back into the university system.(34,35) De Blasio also stated that he would help expand STEM programs at CUNY and, “work through our schools to create more electives in STEM programs and integrated after-school programming directed to girls and young women.”(36)
The future for women in STEM
Whether driven by concerns about the economy, women’s rights, or the progression of science, it is in the interests of our elected officials, the booming tech sector, scientists, and the public, to increase the number of women in STEM. It is only by working together with teachers, students, parents/guardians, and employers, that the centuries-old assumptions about gender-suitable courses and careers can be overcome.
Given all the data we have, and the amount of media attention this subject is beginning to attract, there will be no excuse if gender imbalance in STEM is not eradicated soon.(37,38,39,40) Thoughtful and insightful approaches are being employed at CUNY and by independent groups, but it will take some time before their lasting impact can be assessed. The City and State need to instigate and support coordinated programs from kindergarten to career, to ensure female enrollment, graduation, and continuation in STEM. As de Blasio’s term in office progresses, we will be watching with interest to see how his promises to women in STEM manifest.
To join the discussion about our blog, please visit AWIS-NY on Facebook and LinkedIn
Next week: Anna Durrans will be interviewing Dr Gillian Small, Vice Chancellor for Research at CUNY, about her views on women in STEM education.
Next month: Danelle Marqui Brown will be looking at the role of New York’s Museum of Mathematics in inspiring the next generation of female mathematicians.
1. US Department of Commerce, United States Census Bureau, “State & County QuickFacts.”
2. Beede, D., Julian, T., Langdon, D., McKittrick, G., Khan, B., and Doms, M. US Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, August, 2011, “Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation.”
3. New York State, Department of Labor, Labor Statistics, Detailed Occupation data for Labor Force by Federal Occupational Classifications, 2006-2010 American Community Survey Estimates. Data collated for the five NYC boroughs: https://labor.ny.gov/stats/lseeo.shtm
4. CUNY Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, July 17, 2013, “Enrollment in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Disciplines, by Gender: Fall 2012.”
5. Medin, D.L. and Lee, C.D. Observer, Vol.25, May/June 2012, “Diversity Makes Better Science.”
6. New York State, Department of Labor, Labor Statistics, Occupational Wages for New York City, 2009-2012: https://labor.ny.gov/stats/lswage2.asp
7. CUNY Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, July 17, 2013, “Degrees Granted in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Disciplines, by Major and Gender: 2011-2012
8. Bowles, J. and Giles, D. Center for an Urban Future report, May 2012, “New Tech City.”
9. National Center for Women & Information Technology, February 27, 2013, “By the Numbers.”
10. Hill, C., Corbett, C., St Rose, A. The American Association of University Women, 2010, “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.”
11. Blickenstaff, J.C. Gender and Education, Vol.17, October 2005, “Women and science careers: leaky pipeline or gender filter?”
12. Ceci, S.J., Williams, W.M., and Barnett, S.M. Psychological Bulletin, Vol.135, 2009, “Women’s Underrepresentation in Science: Sociocultural and Biological Considerations.”
13. Barres, B.A., Nature, Vol.442, July 13, 2006, “Does Gender Matter?”
14. The American Association of University Women, November 5, 2013, “Holiday Gift Guide for Girls: The 2013 Edition.”
15. Chen, X. and Soldner, M. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Statistical Analysis Report, November 2013, “STEM Attrition: College Students’ Paths Into and Out of STEM Fields.”
16. CUNY Science Now GK-12 Fellows Program, NSF Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education Program
17. CUNY Women in Science: http://www.cuny.edu/research/women-in-science.html
18. CUNY Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, CUNY Graduate School and University Center, The Feminist Press, September 27, 2013, “Inspiring Women Scientists: Next Generation’s Leaders.”
19. Resource Assisted Initiatives in Science Empowerment for Women (RAISE-W): http://www.raisew.org
20. CUNY Women in STEM, A Doctoral Students’ Council Chartered Organization:
21. CUNY Advanced Science Research Center, News and Events, April 2, 2013, “NSF Awards $3.7 Million for Research-to-Marketplace Initiative.”
22. CUNY Advanced Science Research Center, News and Events, September 15, 2012, “CUNY Plans Hub for Innovation.”
23. CUNY, News and Events, Newswire, January 10, 2014, “LaGuardia Community College Professor Receives $30,000 Grant to Develop a Program that Will Motivate Women to Enter STEM Majors.”
24. Dr Preethi Radhakrishnan, personal communication, January 30, 2014
25. For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), Programs for Girls.
26. For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), 2012 Annual Report: Change the Future.
27. Sakowitz, S. Washington Post blogs, February 26, 2014, “I’m an engineer, not a cheerleader. Let’s abandon silly rules about gender roles.”
28. Sarah Winters, personal communication, February 24, 2014
29. Modi, K., Schoenberg, J., Salmond, K. A report from the Girl Scout Research Initiative, 2012, “Generation STEM: What Girls Say About Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.”
30. Girl Scouts of Greater New York, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Programs.
31. CUNY’s funding comes from the State of New York (46 percent), tuition revenue (44 percent), the City of New York (10 percent): CUNY University Budget Office, “University Budget Office FAQs.”
32. New York State, Division of the Budget, 2014-2015 Executive Budget
33. Chen, D.W. The New York Times, June 24, 2013, “CUNY Union Endorses de Blasio.”
34. Bill de Blasio For Mayor website, October 30, 2013, “FACT CHECK: Team de Blasio Rapid Response – NBC Debate.”
35. Professional Staff Congress, CUNY, Clarion, August 2013, “Questions and Answers with Bill de Blasio: ‘Reasserting Fairness’ in NYC.”
36. Bill de Blasio For Mayor website, “Standing with the Women of New York City.”
37. Else, H. Times Higher Education, February 6, 2014, “MPs want more to be done to help women in science.”
38. Davis, N. The Guardian, February 23, 2014, “Stop female scientists being written out of Wikipedia history.”
39. Kase, A. Salon.com, February 20, 2014, “Sexism plagues major chemistry conference: Boycott emerges amid growing outrage.”
40. Huffington Post.com, Girls in Stem.