Three STEM fields are dominated by women. Why?

Women are drawn to collaborative, impact-driven fields, experts say

There are three STEM fields dominated by women, including health care, where nearly 80% of the workforce is female. But even in these three sectors, females continue to be left out of senior-level leadership positions, Lydia Dishman writes in Fast Company.

According to Fast Company, women earn 57% of all bachelor's degrees, but that percentage drops below 20% for fields like computer science and physics—and the gap does not close once they enter the workforce. For instance, women make up nearly half of all workers, but only represent 25% of the jobs in mathematical sciences and just 13% of engineering jobs.

Related story: Women professors make about 87 cents to a man's dollar

However, Dishman writes, three STEM fields stand apart for their female-dominated workforces: statistics, botany, and health care.

Women in botany, statistics

Beyond health care, about 46% of employees in biological science fields are women, with botany and statistics leading the pack in female representation.

Women have been well-represented in botany since the Victorian era, when working outside the home was not deemed socially acceptable for many women. Even so, Kay Havens of the Chicago Botanic Garden says strong mentors helped draw her into the field. "Without strong mentorship, it can be difficult for anyone to navigate any career but particularly one in the sciences, which are often dominated by men," she explains.

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To help other women consider careers in botany, Havens teamed up with Peggy Olwell, the plant conservation program manager at the Bureau of Land Management, and began a not-for-profit organization focused on female leadership and direct mentorship.

Women also are very active in the field of statistics, Dishman writes. American Statistical Association President David Morganstein says the field's collaborative nature may be part of the draw, noting that women tend to be more attracted to cooperative environments and solving problems in impactful fields, such as health and education.

Women in health care

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about eight in 10 health care employees are women. Moreover, Katherine Ryder—CEO of Maven, a telemedicine clinic for women—says that women:

  • Make 80% of the health care decisions in the United States;
  • Are most likely to be the primary caregivers when a family member is ill;
  • Visit doctors more often and have more follow-up questions; and
  • Make up 90% of the nursing workforce.

Nonetheless, Ryder notes, just 21% of health care executives and board members are female (Dishman, Fast Company, 4/13).

The takeaway: Leaders in three STEM fields dominated by women discuss why women are disproportionately drawn to their fields how to cultivate strong female leadership at an organization.

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