Woman have been historically, and continue to be, underrepresented in STEM fields. Even though the representation differs across individual fields and regions, only 31.2% of the world’s research and development workforce is female as of 2020.1 Though this has improved from the 28.4% of 2015,2 there is a long way to go until the STEM workforce can consider its representation equal. It can be difficult for women to find support within STEM, regardless of their career stage, likely due to an overall lack of female representation within these fields. While we see numerous talks that focus on women in science coming from influential institutions, the bottom line is that representation still lags behind the rhetoric.
Female Workforce Representation (%)
Latin America + Caribbean
Central + Eastern Europe
Western Europe + North America
Eastern Asia + Pacific
Southern + Western Asia
According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), researchers are defined as professionals engaged in the expansion of knowledge. They conduct studies and improve or develop concepts, theories, models, techniques instrumentation, software or operational methods.3 The data included in UIS’ dataset includes individuals who are full- and part-time employees, and is based on headcount. There is no consideration given to seniority or role within the organization. Despite the obvious evidence of exceptional female researchers across STEM fields, as you can see, the proportionality of representation is simply not adequate.
As of 2020, Central Asia has the largest representation of women, with women representing 49.6% of the STEM workforce; in contrast, Southern and Western Asia have the lowest proportion of women in STEM, representing just 24.3% of the workforce. Within these regions, Myanmar had the highest proportion of women (75.5%, though UIS notes that the dataset is incomplete) and Nepal had the lowest proportion of women with 7.8%.
It is also worth noting that while researchers from North America and Western Europe have historically dominated scientific publications, this combined region is much lower on the list, with just 33.2% of the workforce being represented by women; this is just two percentage points above the global average. Is this because the Global North typically overshadows the Global South in research funding, thus supporting more individuals to produce more work?
Interestingly, when countries are grouped according to their ‘income group’ as defined by the World Bank, ‘high income’ countries are not the most equitable. In fact, they are the second to least equitable, only outperforming low-income countries. Instead, it is the lower middle income countries who have the highest percentage, but at 33.8%, they are only barely above the global average. In fact, there is only a 10-point spread across the entire five groupings, much smaller than the 25-point spread when countries are grouped regionally.
Female Workforce Representation (%)
Lower middle income countries
Middle income countries
Upper middle income countries
High income countries
Low income countries
With so many initiatives to make STEM education available to girls at a young age, where are women getting lost in the pipeline? It has been suggested that the first loss occurs when young adults enter college-level education – despite the fact that girls have been shown to perform better academically than boys prior to college, only 30% of undergraduates in OCED countries enrolled in STEM degrees were woman in 2017.4 Some foundations, such as Earthwatch, provide fellowships for female high school students interested in science and research experience.
For students looking to start their STEM education, the Science Ambassador Scholarship offers full tuition for a woman or non-binary individual in STEM, while the Women at Microsoft Scholarship offers $5,000 to women and non-binary people who intend to pursue a STEAM career after college. For those looking for a graduate degree, the American Association of University Women offers Career Development Grants of $2000–$12,000 to support education, while the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship Program, a part of NOAA, provides support for master’s and doctoral degrees in oceanography, marine biology, maritime archaeology, which may be a part of engineering, social science, marine education, marine stewardship, cultural anthropology, and resource management. Post-graduate opportunities include the Promotion of Women Scientists. Women in STEM and the Association for Women in STEM are international organizations that provide mentorship, networking, educational resources, and outreach opportunities for its members. There are also several funding opportunities for research that supports gender equity in STEM fields, such as the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program. Finally, if none of these apply, you can find other funding opportunities depending on your career stage, location, and discipline through Peeref’s Funding Database.