Occupations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) make up 7% of the workforce, yet only 27% of women worked in these fields in 2019. STEM specializations have a long way to go to bridge this gender gap. They offer women a wide range of opportunities in biological sciences, computer and mathematical operations, chemistry and physical sciences, various engineering fields, and earth sciences. Some STEM careers may even pop up in unexpected ways, such as through mechanical engineering in which thermodynamics and fluid mechanics play critical roles inmaking air conditioners work in your home. Pursuing a career in STEM could lead to a lifetime of fulfilling research and contributions to scientific and technological advancements. As a young female student eager to make an impact, here are four tips to help you become a successful woman in STEM.
1. Enroll in a strong STEM program
The first step for women to achieve success in STEM fields is to enroll in a reputable degree program. STEM degree programs deliver interdisciplinary learning and hands-on experience with the latest technologies in your chosen career path. Perhaps most importantly, STEM programs are designed for students to gain essential skills necessary for their fields. While each specialization will equip you with problem-solving, critical-thinking, and research analysis skills, you’ll also acquire designated skill sets for your particular program. For example, astudent pursuing mathematics will master logical reasoning, linear models, and mathematical formulas. Likewise,conservation scientists will need to develop strong communication, speaking, and decision-making skills for advocacy and environmental solutions.
You may desire to enter a field where you can research and find a cure for cancer or solve global warming. Thankfully, STEM degrees are highly diverse and help pave the way to many stable, lucrative employment opportunities. When you’ve decided on the STEM program you wish to enroll in, speak with an advisor to ensure you meet the GPA and prerequisite requirements for acceptance into the program. Every college and university will have varying standards for students to meet.
Related: How to Choose a STEM Major From All Your Different Options
2. Ask for help and mentorship
STEM fields are challenging. It’s important to remember that asking for assistance or clarification about complex concepts is okay and indicates you’re willing to put in the work and really learn. In mechanical engineering, wherewomen make up only 11% of the workforce, studies show female engineers are more likely to ask other female colleagues for assistance instead of their male counterparts. It’s hard being a woman in STEM; however, you may be setting yourself up for failure by not speaking up, even to the opposite gender. As you pursue a STEM degree, practice asking for help from peers and faculty in general, regardless of gender. Better yet, find a mentor to assist you in gaining the expertise and hands-on experience needed in your field of study. Although more women are seeking employment in STEM positions, men still occupy most leadership roles. Open yourself up to more educational and professional opportunities by turning to male mentors and faculty members for assistance. They may be able to introduce you to different industry professionals and gain higher respect for being a female in a male-dominated field.
3. Step outside your comfort zone
We’ve already said it: Women are vastly underrepresented in STEM. That’s why you need to be prepared to step outside your comfort zone in order to achieve success. Ensure others realize how invaluable your skills and knowledge are and make your voice heard. Women have far more to prove due to the narratives and myths surrounding women in math and science. It wasn’t until theTitle IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and thePublic Health Service Act of 1975 were passed that women were allowed to pursue medical careers without prejudice. Yet, even with laws in place to prevent gender discrimination, a recent study by the Pew Research Center found that only47% of employees in mathematics were female. Similarly, only 40% of females worked in physical science, and 25% in computer sciences. Don’t expect to hide in the back of the room when you pursue a STEM degree; you will get noticed simply by being a woman in the field. Set yourself up for success by actively participating in lectures, internships, and other hands-on training.
4. Join a professional organization
Whether you’re a student, a graduate, or part of the workforce, professional organizations for women in STEM fields deliver plenty of opportunities for ongoing learning, research, advocacy, and career development. Many professional organizations also offer student memberships at a discounted rate with access to several member benefits, including mentorship programs, volunteer or internship openings, job listings, networking opportunities, and access to the latest STEM research. Examples of female-focused professional organizations include:
- Association for Women in Science (AWIS): This group is aimed atgender equity advocacy and advancing women in science fields.
- Society of Women Engineers (SWE): SWE offers a uniqueplatform for female engineers to voice their knowledge and challenges surrounding engineering professions.
- Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM): This organization seeks toempower women in mathematical careers and advocate for occupational gender equality.
- Association for Women in Computer (AWC): AWC providesprofessional growth and networking opportunities for women in various technology-related fields.
Students and professionals can also apply for membership to other female-oriented organizations for more specific fields, such as radiology, geosciences, coding, pharmaceuticals, and more.
Related: 10 Great Academic and Professional Groups for Women
Pursuing a STEM degree sets you up for success in fulfilling careers that need more female representation. Women in STEM are bold professionals who exude exceptional leadership and knowledge to drive progress in some of the most crucial areas of our lives. When you join the ranks of women in challenging science, technology, engineering, and mathematics positions, you’ll inspire a new generation of young female professionals to do the same.
Need help funding your STEM education? Check out these Scholarships for Women in Honor of Women’s History Month that you may be eligible for!