Advocacy Report on STEM Gender Gap

October 8, 2014

pic-tech-labOn Wednesday Oct. 1, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Advocacy released a report entitled, “Understanding the Gender Gap in STEM Fields Entrepreneurship.” This report examines the persistent differences in the gender gap across STEM fields respective to their participation in entrepreneurship.

In an increasingly globalized world the STEM workforce is crucial to the nation’s competitiveness and workers with STEM skills are in high demand. Although women entrepreneurs have made tremendous gains in job creation and economic growth, women remain significantly underrepresented in STEM jobs and degree holders which remain majority male. While there has been an increase in the representation of women in STEM occupations and academia over the years, that increase has been uneven across STEM fields and is far from closing the gender gap. According to Advocacy, in 2011 women constituted 26 percent of STEM workers but remained significantly underrepresented in the two main fields  of all STEM occupations, computer (27 percent women) and engineering occupations (13 percent women). In fact, this uneven representation persists across field specializations as well, with women mechanical engineers representing only six percent of that workforce.

“We know degrees in the STEM fields provide for a lucrative and successful career path, but we must also recognize STEM as an entrepreneurial opportunity. An opportunity that we want to make sure is equally available to both women and men,” said Dr. Winslow Sargeant, Chief Counsel for Advocacy, “Today’s study shows areas where policymakers may want to focus to improve women involvement in STEM entrepreneurship.”

The study found that the underlying issues observed vary widely across STEM fields and disciplines, including gender differences in graduate training environments, employment sector and typical work activities, professional seniority, and the impact of patenting activity on subsequent entrepreneurship. This report suggests that an effective strategy for addressing the gender gap in STEM fields’ entrepreneurship should be multifaceted in its approach. It also provides recommendations that may help to guide interventions and identify areas that may warrant further research and data collection. Some interesting findings in the report include:

  • Across all STEM fields, female PhDs have lower rates of patenting and entrepreneurship than do male PhDs (5.4 percent versus 7 percent and 15 percent versus 28 percent, respectively).
  • In 2012, according to the Department of Education, women continue to lag behind men in entrepreneurially inclined engineering PhD fields, earning between 15 and 30 percent of these PhDs.
  • The differences in entrepreneurship rates are widest in physics, astronomy, and computer science.
  • Women are just as likely as men to be entrepreneurs when their first postdoctoral job is in industry.
  • Women who attended universities with industry funded research and development are more likely to start an entrepreneurial venture.
  • Graduate and postdoctoral training environments may influence female involvement in STEM entrepreneurship.

For the full report and research summary click here.