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Women Leave Science Careers

Science Careers
Women Leave Science Careers

The MIT Technology Review reported that even though equal amounts of men and women pursue graduate degrees in science a significant number of women leave science careers both in the private sector and academia.

Why women leave science careers?

Apparently the reasons are many. Nature.com says that nearly half of US women leave science careers after the birth of their first child. One study of 841 scientists revealed that more than 40 percent of women leave their full time science jobs after having a first child versus only 23 percent of men. According to the study, they either went part time, left STEM jobs all together or just left the labor force all together.

The study reported in the MIT Review showed that women are leaving science careers in their 30s and 40s. That may or may not coincide with women who become mothers during that period.

ABC News pointed to a “study by the Center for Work-Life Policy” that found that “52 % of women in private-sector science and technology jobs drop out without returning.” During the study, researchers conducted 28 focus groups in 13 major cities around the world, surveying women in science careers, engineering and technology who had been working at their company for at least six months.

What women say 

Laura Sherbin, a director at the Center for Work-Life Policy, said that the “reasons for attrition in the private sector…can’t be attributed solely to women leaving to raise families.” She said, “the top two reasons why women are leaving science careers are the hostile macho cultures…and extreme work pressures” such as “the increasing demand to put in longer and longer hours at the office.”

In 2016 another study completed by the Society for Women Engineers, showed that the factors driving women from the STEM fields had nothing to do with family responsibilities. That study showed that both men and women faced the same “bureaucracy and hierarchy” that impeded their achievements.  Women, more so than men, were less tolerant of those types of environments and therefore the women walked away from those careers in higher numbers.

Racial bias among how STEM women are viewed

Whatever the reasoning, it appears that some women face more challenges and obstacles in science careers than others. In one report for Harvard Business Review, women appeared to experience challenges along racial lines.

The study showed that 78% of Black women reported having to provide more evidence to prove themselves compared to 65% of Latina, 64% of Asian and 63% of White women.

Only 8% of Black women were advised to work less hours after having children compared to 37% of Asian women and 26% of White women.

Only 8% of Black women found themselves pressured to play stereotypical feminine role versus 41% of Asian women and 36% of White women. 

More than 70% of Latina, Asian and White women felt that the women in their work environments supported each other.

More than 48% of Black Women and 47% of Latina women said they had been mistaken for custodial or administrative staff.

With these types of experiences in science careers, it shouldn’t be surprising why some women leave science careers.  Already not in large numbers, women experience increasing sense of isolation in STEM careers. As one Black woman reported, “I feel that socially engaging with my colleagues may negatively affect perceptions of my competence.”

Updated 8/29/2020

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