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 

At the Center for Work-Life Policy, Laura Sherbin, said that women leaving science careers to raise families was not the only reasons. Sherbin identified two other reasons women left  science careers. First, women left because of  hostile macho cultures and second, extreme work pressures where women faced “increasing demand to put in longer and longer hours at the office.”

Another study by the Society for Women Engineers in 2016, showed that family responsibilities was not a factor driving women from the STEM fields. That study showed that both men and women faced the same “bureaucracy and hierarchy” impeding their achievements. However, women were less tolerant of those environments and walked away from those careers in higher numbers.

Racial bias towards STEM women 

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. This 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. In comparison 37% of Asian women and 26% of White women were advised to do the same.

-While only 8% of Black women experienced pressure to play stereotypical feminine role, 41% of Asians experienced this. Thirty six percent of White women experienced pressure as well.

-Over 70% of Latina, Asian and White women felt that women supported each other in science work environments.

-Black women (48%) and Latina women (47%), were 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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