STEM and the Gender Pay Gap By: darCy tyler

Earlier this week, April 4th 2017, was Equal Pay Day. How ironic, considering that it will take approximately 42 years to close a 20-cent gender wage gap in the United States.

This national pay gap statistic comes from a skewed array of pay gaps for every state. In 2015, the smallest pay gap was in New York, where women working full time year-round were paid 89 percent of what men were paid. On the other hand, Wyoming holds the largest gap; women were paid 64 percent of what men were paid.

Some people may say that this is because women work less hours than men, but these numbers come directly from full time year-round workers - that is, workers that had all the same control factors and are equally working counterparts. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women who have reduced schedules often to go on maternity leave or manage caregiving have a much lower ratio of women’s to men’s earnings.

If it is not for the working hours, then why is this the case?

The gender pay gap is a very controversial and complex issue. An upsetting fact in our American society is that, yes, women on average are receiving 20 cents of less pay per hour than that of male counterparts, but one of the many reasons for this pay gap includes that women are not equally represented in fields of science, technology, engineering and math (many refer to these as STEM). According to the United States Department of Labor, the most popular jobs are the most stereotypical for women. They include elementary school and middle school teachers, secretaries and assistants, registered nurses, retail sales workers, and home health aides. All of these gender associated jobs are jobs that historically pay less than other careers and jobs where 80 percent of the workforce are women.

However, it is important to understand why women are still pursuing these stereotypical jobs. Are women not offered these “non-traditional jobs” in STEM or just choose not to apply for these positions because they are merely uninterested in the working environment? Is it because these fields are not being broadcasted enough towards the female population? Or maybe because of the stigma that surrounds these occupations for women in our society?

A survey conducted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology illustrates that merely two years ago, only nine percent of the workers in the engineering and technology industry were women. The STEM industry is not anti-women, but it has always attracted more males - and this is part of the reason why women automatically rule out this path as a possibility without even realizing it.

Only nine percent of the workers in the engineering and technology industry are women. Photo courtesy of E&T Jobs.

According to Zoe Cunningham, one of the 100 most influential people in Tech City and named the Brightest Woman in Britain in 2013, “There is also a rise in the number of campaigns that stress things such as ‘you can program without studying maths’ and ‘you can work in technology without being able to program.’ While these are both true and valid points, I think that sometimes this reinforces the idea that women therefore shouldn’t be bothering with maths or programming, which I think has the potential to be extremely detrimental for them as individuals and for society.”

Along with these campaigns, an unofficial survey issued by the E&T (Engineering and Technology Jobs) shows that roughly a quarter of the women participants admitted they did not pursue these fields because they weren’t given enough or accurate information at school. Unfortunately in our society, everyone is influenced by their environment. Therefore, women who are not exposed to the STEM fields early in their education miss out on the benefits it can provide and also choose not to pursue it primarily because they do not know much about it.

There is still much back-and-forth, but studies do show that high paying and available jobs for women in the STEM fields are still only paid roughly 82 to 87 percent of what their male counterparts are paid. A recent study by Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn estimates that occupational segregation - where women work in lower paid jobs, typically done by women, and men work in higher paying jobs typically done by men - is now responsible for fifty percent of the wage gap. This means that the half of the problem is ultimately fixable. Since everyone is influenced by his or her environment, the gender discrimination in our society needs to be stopped. Educators, parents, and other adults need to diminish these gender based roles in society so that the next generation can live in a world of equal pay.

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