A Look at the Attrition of Women in STEM

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The loss of skilled women from the STEM workforce in academia has not gone unnoticed…[but] even with policies in place, a change in broader culture will be necessary to precipitate the desired changes.

by Sumana Sharma

The underrepresentation of women in leadership positions in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is usually attributed to the ‘leaky pipeline phenomenon’, according to which an increasing proportion of women leave their occupational fields at each stage along their career paths. This attrition is most pronounced for the academic biological sciences, in which the most significant attrition occurs at the postgraduate-to-group leader transition. To illustrate: in the UK in 2014/15, 66% of bioscience postgraduate students, but only 18% of professors, were female.

A huge gender difference in leadership positions is evident across all STEM fields: overall, 82% of all professors are men, as of 2014. This attrition of women in the STEM workforce raises questions over specific barriers faced by women in this field for career advancement. These barriers can be multi-faceted; thus, accurately identifying the main barriers and designing policies to address them will be essential to resolving gender disparity in the field of STEM.

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