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Women's Journey in STEM: From Graduation to Leadership

In the dynamic landscape of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), gender disparities continue to challenge progress and innovation, but progress is happening. Our new white paper analyzing LinkedIn’s profiles from 39 countries, uncovers these trends: women are significantly underrepresented in STEM skills, employment, and leadership, but the gap is narrowing. The widest representation gap, notably, is identified at the transition between graduation and joining the STEM workforce. While these trends hold globally, their extent varies from country to country. Given the escalating economic significance of STEM domains, particularly in areas like AI, it becomes imperative to recognize these obstacles and strides promptly, as we collectively work towards fostering a more inclusive and diverse STEM community.

Only 3 out of 10 STEM roles globally are held by women

It's no surprise that while there have been improvements over the past seven years in all but one country, women remain a minority in STEM occupations worldwide. Women represent less than one-third of STEM workers in 33 out of the 39 examined countries, and less than half of the overall workforce in all countries. Even in industries where women are the majority of the workforce, there tends to be significantly fewer women in STEM occupations than in non-STEM occupations within the industry. This gender gap in employment is also reflected in a global skill gap: men are twice as likely as women to list a STEM skill on their LinkedIn profile. 

There is good news. Since 2015, both the skill gap and the employment gap have narrowed by around 5.5% globally. However, it isn’t fast enough to cover the size gap we face. If we keep progressing at this pace, it would take 45 years to close the global gender gap in STEM skills, while the gap in STEM employment would take twice as long with women having to wait 90 years to represent half of the global STEM workforce. One potential pathway to shortening that timeline is skills-first hiring, where increasing representation of women in other fields where women are underrepresented has been shown to play a critical role.

Share of women in STEM and non-STEM employment over time

One-third of women graduating in STEM subjects enter the STEM workforce

Despite the increasing number of women studying and graduating globally with STEM degrees, a significant disparity exists in their representation in the STEM workforce. Both men and women graduating with a STEM college degree often choose not to enter the STEM workforce, although the attrition rate is more pronounced for women. For the 2017 cohort of STEM graduates across the evaluated countries, only 28% of women joined the STEM workforce one year after graduation, compared to 39% of men. The countries with the highest retention rates for men were Poland, Mexico, the United States, and Canada, while for women they were the Philippines, India, Spain, and Canada. 

These different retention rates between men and women lead to a sharp drop-off in female representation (a relative drop of 17%) at the critical transition between graduation and entering the STEM workforce, with typically additional (although much smaller) declines each subsequent five years working. This sharp drop-off is consistent across all countries examined, with half of them experiencing a decrease of more than 20% from their baseline share between graduation and one year later in the workforce. Austria, Poland, the Netherlands, France, and Brazil witnessed the largest drop-offs, while India, Singapore, Italy, and the Philippines recorded the smallest decreases.

Retaining STEM graduates is crucial for fostering diversity and driving innovation and impactful advancements in the field. Employers and policymakers should prioritize efforts to support women in navigating this critical transition, which is just the first step in their corporate ladder journey.

Retention in STEM after graduation with a STEM degree for the 2017 graduation cohort

Only 1 in 8 C-suite STEM roles are held by women, compared to 1 in 4 in non-STEM

The stark drop in female representation after graduation underscores the importance of addressing the retention of women in STEM fields, as this critical stage in the journey has important downstream implications for the representation of women as they progress into leadership positions. The dropoff in representation of women accelerates with increasing seniority levels. In every country analyzed, the share of women in STEM at the entry level is higher than the share of women in senior leadership positions. Moreover, at any given seniority level, there is a higher proportion of women in leadership among the non-STEM occupations compared to STEM occupations. In fact, for many countries, the proportion of women in entry-level non-STEM positions is approximately the same as the proportion of women in C-suite positions for STEM.

Representation of women in leadership by STEM status

The journey to achieve gender parity in STEM fields is complex and will vary country-by-country, but knowing the driving factors of the problem can help us create an inclusive and supportive environment that empowers women to thrive in STEM careers. By implementing location-specific educational reforms, providing targeted support, promoting diverse role models, and fostering collaborative partnerships, we can nurture the STEM pipeline and ensure strong retention of women after graduation and up the leadership ladder. By doing so, we can unlock innovation, drive economic growth, and create a brighter, more inclusive future for all. 


Gender Classification: Gender identity isn’t binary, and we recognize that some LinkedIn members identify beyond the traditional gender constructs of “man” and “woman.” If not explicitly self-identified, we have inferred the gender of members included in this analysis either by the pronouns used on their LinkedIn profiles or inferred on the basis of first name. Members whose gender could not be inferred as either man or woman were excluded from this analysis.  

STEM: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) defines a collection of skills and occupations in these connected fields. We define STEM skills as those for which STEM degree graduates are at least five times as likely to list the skill as non-STEM degree holders. We define STEM occupations as those with at least one of their top ten skills as a STEM skill. See the technical note on STEM classification for details.