The bipartisan Senate Women in STEM Caucus – created late last year to advance women’s participation in science, technology, engineering and math education and careers – met on Feb. 16 to discuss the ongoing disparity in women’s participation in the STEM workforce and further challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, women made up nearly 28 percent of the U.S. STEM workforce. That gender gap has been particularly high in some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs of the STEM field – like computer science and engineering – and has been under further pressure during the pandemic as women were forced to balance work and home responsibilities.
Sens. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., aired out the issue at the caucus’s first-ever panel discussion on Feb. 16.
“Early in my career as a computer programmer, I saw firsthand that women are underrepresented in STEM careers,” Sen. Rosen said. “Today, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, that shortage of women in the STEM workforce has only been exacerbated by the unique challenges the pandemic has presented for women.”
According to recent data from the U.S. Census, women – who make up nearly half of the entire American workforce – have been making some gains but are still “vastly underrepresented” in the STEM workforce, holding less than one-third of all STEM jobs.
In 2018 women earned about 49 percent of STEM-related degrees at the bachelor level, but by 2019 were only 29.4 percent of the workforce. For women of color, those disparities were even worse. In 2018 women of color earned 17.8 percent of STEM degrees at the bachelor levels, but in 2019 only made up 10.8 percent of the STEM workforce.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a unique impact on women in the workforce, including those in STEM fields,” said Sen. Capito. “Right now, is a critical time to support policies that help women face these challenges and make it easier to both reenter and thrive, in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math.”
In 2019, Sens. Rosen and Capito shepherded into law their bipartisan Building Blocks of STEM Act to create and expand upon STEM education initiatives at the National Science Foundation for young children, including new research grants to increase the participation of girls in computer science.
“For young women across the country, this bipartisan bill represents increased opportunities to explore STEM fields,” said Sen. Capito. “As more tech companies invest in West Virginia, I want to make sure our workforce is ready to meet the challenges of this industry.”