While STEM gender gaps in the U.S. persist, there are reasons for encouragement
In our new White Paper, "Measuring gender gaps in the U.S. STEM workforce," my colleagues Nikhil Gahlawat, Paul Ko, Rosie Hood, Silvia Lara, and I investigated the gender gap in STEM participation among college graduates in the United States. Our findings reveal both discouraging trends and promising developments.
There are persistent gender disparities in STEM employment and skills
Racial and gender disparities in the labor market have long been an issue, and economic downturns often exacerbate these inequalities. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) training and work is one such example where there are persistent gaps, with women and underrepresented groups continually underrepresented. Our analysis shows that not only is there a gender gap in STEM work (14 percentage points across all members, with similar rates for STEM bachelor’s degree or higher graduates and higher gaps for STEM associate’s degree holders), but there is also a STEM skill gender gap, which is slightly larger.
The STEM employment gaps are relatively stable across the first five years after graduation from a STEM degree, with women being underrepresented all the way through. Holding a higher degree does not close the gender gap either: men with associate degrees in STEM work in STEM jobs at a slightly higher rate than women with bachelor's degrees in STEM. Of course, the STEM gender disparity starts many years before our members join the workforce. Prior research has shown that boys are more likely to be interested in STEM in middle school and high school than girls, and men are more likely than women to major and graduate in STEM in college. Our data shows a large leak in the STEM pipeline occurring between graduation and one year later that is dramatically different for men and women. While women from the 2016 graduation cohort represented about 40.3% of LinkedIn member STEM bachelor’s degree or higher graduates in the U.S. that year, they were only 32.4% of the STEM workforce one year later, after which the representation decreased only slightly. The first job out of college—and the factors and barriers that underlie that decision—plays a critical role in setting the track for gender representation in STEM.
There is slow movement in the right direction
While the persistent gender gap is concerning, there is some good news. First, the pipeline is becoming less leaky with each successive graduating cohort. This is particularly true for STEM associate’s degree holders, who saw substantial increases in the likelihood of working in STEM one year after graduation between the 2018 cohort and the 2022 cohort.
Additionally, each graduating cohort gradually increases women’s representation in STEM occupations. This positive effect across cohorts is significantly outpacing the negative within-cohort decrease. Albeit slowly, this two-steps-forward, one-step-back trend [NG1] [MB2] is leading to a slow, steady climb in female representation in STEM.
Our analysis of LinkedIn profiles provides valuable insights into the gender gap in STEM participation among graduates in the United States. While the findings reveal persistent disparities, they also highlight some positive developments. Numerous interventions have been proposed to address the gender gap in STEM, including mentoring programs, outreach efforts, and policy changes. Mentoring programs can provide women with guidance, support, and opportunities for professional development. Outreach efforts can help students develop an interest in STEM and overcome negative stereotypes. Policy changes can include measures such as pay transparency, flexible work arrangements, and family-friendly policies that can help level the playing field—areas of ongoing research here at LinkedIn.