It is a widely discussed fact that jobs in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, commonly referred to as STEM careers, are held mostly by men. This gender inequality has been the focus of several public policy initiatives, such as President Obama's plan to bolster STEM education for girls.
However, the current depth of the gender diversity problem in STEM professions was less defined, until now. Our close analysis of the top five STEM jobs with the highest percentage of men working in the profession and the top five STEM jobs with the highest percentage of women working in the profession presents an alarming disparity in gender diversity. The 2014 data, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), shows that while the jobs with the most men are completely dominated by men, the jobs with the most women are closer to gender neutral. In fact, the fifth ranked job with the most women, statisticians, still has a higher percentage of men working in the field (49.9 percent women, versus 50.1 percent men).
Read on to get an in-depth picture of gender inequality in these ten featured jobs. Note that the 2014 salary data comes from the BLS and reflects the overall salary for both men and women.
Here are the five jobs with the highest percentage of men working in the profession:
1. Mechanical Engineers
- Percentage of men employed: 91.2%
- Mean annual wage: $87,140
These engineers work with machines and other mechanical and thermal devices in all stages of development, including design, manufacturing and testing. While mechanical engineers do make some worksite visits, most of the work is done in offices where they can have access to computers that help them create designs, analyze tests and develop specifications for parts. Mechanical engineers are required to have at least a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology. Those working in the field of research typically have a graduate degree.
This job offers the least gender diversity in the STEM field, with only 8.8 percent of positions held by women. Though there are a variety of complex reasons why this is the case, none of them have to do with a gender-based predisposition for the skill set required, as shown by the example set in China where a third of engineers are women. More likely, it is that our culture discourages young women from focusing on the math-centric sciences, such as engineering; according to the latest figures from Engineering UK on STEM enrollment at schools in the United Kingdom, the perception that these subjects are "for boys" seems to grow stronger in the later grades and college.
2. Surveying and Mapping Technicians
- Percentage of men employed: 90.3%
- Mean annual wage: $43,870
These technicians collect data and assist surveyors and cartographers in the task of mapping various parts of the earth's surface. Surveying technicians, who typically need only a high school diploma, do their job almost entirely outside in all types of weather. However, mapping technicians tend to work mostly indoors on computers and usually have an associate or bachelor's degree in a field such as geomatics.
Since this profession requires hauling gear, pounding stakes and other physically demanding tasks, some women have commented on the difficulties of getting hired into this field. The women contributing to the Reddit chat stream called "How is life as a woman in surveying?" say that many surveying firms have a long history of hiring men, and the most important step in the road to gender diversity in this field is changing the culture. "Surveying is definitely an old boys club from my experience," one user writes. "However, there is definitely the capability for women to handle all tasks which a surveyor must perform, and I think more women should strive to enter the profession."
3. Electrical and Electronics Engineers
- Percentage of men employed: 87.7%
- Mean annual wage: $95,780 (Electrical Engineers), $99,660 (Electronics Engineers)
Electric motors, navigation systems, power generators; this is the type of equipment that electrical engineers design, test and develop. Most of this work is done indoors, with the occasional site visit to investigate complaints on various pieces of equipment. Electrical and electronics engineers need a bachelor's degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program in one of the following fields: electrical engineering, electronics engineering or electrical engineering technology. Those wanting to work in research and development should consider pursuing a master's degree.
To boost the numbers of young people, particularly young women, entering the field of engineering, students need a better understanding of what engineers do. That's according to Ellen Kullman, co-chair of The National Academy of Engineering's initiative called "Changing the Conversation." "Students need to understand how engineers make a difference in their neighborhoods, communities, and the world by solving problems using science and technology, and that they, too, can join in those efforts," she writes in The Bridge, a publication of The National Academy of Engineering. Whether that means new medical devices or electric cars, "Engineers use their knowledge of science and technology to improve people's lives in meaningful ways," she says.
4. Computer Network Architects
- Percentage of men employed: 87.6%
- Mean annual wage: $100,710
Data communication networks, from small connections between offices to multinational communications systems, are designed and built by computer network architects. They determine the hardware and software needed to support these networks and take important security measures into consideration. Most computer network architects have a bachelor's degree in a computer-related field. Some employers may prefer candidates with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in information systems and/or 5 to 10 years of experience with information technology systems.
Only 12.4 percent of computer network architects are women, and that poses a big problem for the IT field, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT). Not only does a lack of gender diversity limit the talent pool for filling these in-demand positions, but the organization claims that it leads to a lack of innovation and competitiveness. A NCWIT study found that mixed-sex teams produced IT patents 26-42 percent more often than the norm.
The NCWIT study cites a lack of good role models, weak supervisory relationships and a highly-biased review process as some of the key barriers to getting women into the IT field and keeping them there.
5. Chemical Engineers
- Percentage of men employed: 87%
- Mean annual wage: $103,590
Chemical engineers work mainly in the manufacturing field, making sure that the production and use of chemicals is done safely and sustainably. They work mainly in laboratories, developing processes, conducting tests and evaluating equipment, among other tasks. A bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from an ABET-accredited program is required to do this job; an additional graduate degree is usually required for work in research and development.
Only 13 percent of chemical engineers are women, according to BLS data. That trend is reflected in the wider field of chemistry, as well. According to the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF), women constitute only 16 percent of the tenured faculty in chemistry departments at U.S. colleges and universities, and only four women have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In order to combat the lack of role models for women in this field, the CHF developed a series of films about women pioneers in the field of chemistry. "I didn't intend to be an assistant for the rest of my life; so I started a new field of research," says Mildred Cohn in one of the films. Cohn helped pioneer the use of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to study enzymes and proteins in the body.
The jobs above naturally show the lowest gender diversity, but what if we flip the data to show the jobs with the most women? Though the picture is brighter, even the jobs in STEM with the most women look closer to gender neutral. Have a look for yourself at the five jobs with the highest percentage of women working in the profession:
- Percentage of women employed: 71.9%
- Mean annual wage: $89,810
Psychologists study human behavior and relationships by observing how people relate to each other and their surroundings. Some work with patients in a private practice, while others collaborate as part of a health care team in a medical setting. Some psychologists only need a master's degree in psychology to do their work, but most need a doctoral degree. To do clinical work, a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree and state licensure is required.
Though this is the most female-centric job in the STEM fields, nearly 30 percent of people in the field are men. (Remember, this is still a traditionally male-dominated field.) The reason for the shift in demographics over the last 20 years is complex, according to an article by the American Psychological Association. Essentially, as salaries flat-lined and the profession lost some of its status in the 1990's, men left the field, and highly-educated women began filling in the gaps. Women may also be more drawn to the science of psychology because it requires a deep concern for others, and women perceive themselves as more empathetic than men, according to a 2003 study in the journal Teaching of Psychology (Vol. 30, No. 1).
2. Medical and Health Services Managers
- Percentage of women employed: 71.8%
- Mean annual wage: $103,680
These managers plan and coordinate medical and health services either in a specific department or across an entire facility. Medical and health services managers typically need a bachelor's degree, although master's degrees in health services, long-term care administration, public health, public administration or business administration is common.
The numbers are similar to psychologists, most likely for similar reasons: Health services management focuses on human resources and communications, which are skills that most women associate themselves with. However, even though women make up nearly 72 percent of health services managers, a report from Rock Health states that only 18 percent of women are hospital CEO's.
3. Operations Research Analysts
- Percentage of women employed: 55.4%
- Mean annual wage: $82,940
These analysts use mathematical and analytical methods to help organizations solve complex problems, from using statistics to help inform decisions to gathering input from employees. Most operations research analysts have master's degrees in operations research, engineering, computer science, mathematics or physics. Some entry-level positions are open to those with bachelor's degrees.
This field only has 55.4 percent female workers, but that is still a considerable amount when looking at women in STEM. The reason for this, says analyst Laurie M. Orlov in her article on cio.com, is that jobs in the business technology arena capitalize on women's greatest strengths in the workplace: "communication, collaboration and problem solving."
4. Medical Scientists
- Percentage of women employed: 52.5%
- Mean annual wage: $90,160
Medical scientists focus on improving human health through clinical trials and other types of research. Most work in offices and laboratories, investigating human diseases, analyzing medical sample, and creating standards for drug potency. A Ph.D in biology, chemistry or a related field from an accredited postsecondary institution is required to be a medical scientist.
The field of medical science has just about reached gender equality, with a slight swing in favor of women. It is a sign that things are improving for women in the STEM fields, particularly those with a focus on health. And gender equality is also good news for the field in general; if there are different types of minds researching complex human health problems, there are usually more pathways to solutions.
- Percentage of women employed: 49.9%
- Mean annual wage: $84,010
Statisticians help to solve problems by collecting and analyzing data. They design surveys and opinion polls and use statistical software to arrive at the best solutions for businesses, government bodies and other types of organizations. A master's degree in survey methodology, statistics or mathematics is typically required to work as a statistician, though entry-level jobs can often be done with a bachelor's degree. A doctoral degree is required for research and academic work.
Although this is the fifth STEM job with the highest number of women, there are actually more men occupying jobs in the field -- a full 50.1 percent. Women who did enter the field got there either because of good role-models, the profession's collaborative environment or an inclusive culture, says the American Statistical Association on their website campaign "This Is Statistics."
Although the numbers show a continued lack of diversity in the STEM fields, things are at least moving in the right direction. The last two jobs on the list of STEM fields occupied by women, medical scientists and statisticians, have exactly the type of numbers that the new policy initiatives are aiming for: gender neutrality. It is the mixture of men and women in these fields that will lead to the innovation and creativity required to solve 21st century problems.
"About Women in Chemistry," http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/online-resources/women-in-chemistry/about.aspx
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Chemical Engineers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/chemical-engineers.htm#tab-1
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Computer Network Architects, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-network-architects.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Electrical and Electronics Engineers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/electrical-and-electronics-engineers.htm#tab-4
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Mechanical Engineers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/mechanical-engineers.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Medical and Health Services Managers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/mobile/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Medical Scientists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/medical-scientists.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Operations Research Analysts, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/operations-research-analysts.htm#tab-1
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Surveying and Mapping Technicians, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/surveying-and-mapping-technicians.htm#tab-1
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Statisticians, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/statisticians.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_stru.htm
"How to Attract Women to Enterprise IT Jobs," http://www.cio.com/article/2438014/staff-management/how-to-attract-women-to-enterprise-it-jobs.html
"How Is Life as a Woman in Surveying," https://www.reddit.com/r/Surveying/comments/3imfsb/how_is_life_as_a_woman_in_surveying/
"Men: A Growing Minority?" http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2011/01/cover-men.aspx
Mildren Cohn, http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/online-resources/women-in-chemistry/mildred-cohn.aspx
"President Obama Expands 'Educate to Innovate' Campaign for Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education," https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/president-obama-expands-educate-innovate-campaign-excellence-science-technology-eng
"Summer Issue of The Bridge on Changing the Conversation about Engineering," https://www.nae.edu/Publications/Bridge/51063/51069.aspx#about_author51069
"Why aren't there more women engineers," http://www.theengineer.co.uk/opinion/comment/why-arent-there-more-women-engineers/1009440.article
"Women a Growing Force in Statistics and Data Science, Reports the Washington Post," http://thisisstatistics.org/women-a-growing-force-in-statistics-and-data-science-reports-washington-post/
"Women in IT: The Facts," https://www.ncwit.org/resources/women-it-facts
"Women's Voices Largely Missing from Healthcare Conferences," http://rockhealth.com/xx-health-can-better-2014/