This article originally appeared on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Blog.
The math is pretty simple. Demand for workers with skills in science, mathematics and engineering is growing, yet nearly half of the population is pursuing degrees and careers in other fields.
Women still remain underrepresented in STEM fields, even as companies seek more and more qualified workers.
This was the topic du jour on March 19 as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Women in Business held its 4th annual summit, which featured panels of female entrepreneurs and speeches from executives from Lockheed Martin and Stella & Dot.
The summit coincided with the release of Reaching the Full Potential of STEM for Women and the U.S. Economy, a report that outlines the demand for STEM jobs and the role of women in those sectors.
“If you have workplace diversity, you have the best talent,” said Bob Moritz, chairman and senior partner with PwC, who offered keynote remarks. “If you have the best talent, you have the best performance. There’s a business case for the need to bring more resources into STEM.”
The growth in STEM jobs is projected to be 17.4% between 2012 and 2022, representing nearly 3.1 million positions. Moreover, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says 3 million more workers will be needed just to replace current workers. This comes at a time when women are graduating from college more frequently than men.
The report notes that:
1. The overall percentage of female students in science and engineering fields rose slightly between 2010 and 2012, but just 7.2% of women major in the core STEM fields of physical sciences, math, computer science, statistics, and engineering.
2. In 2013 there were 2.65 million female college graduates and 1.88 million male college grads. But in core STEM fields, women comprised just 165,000 grads, compared to 370,000 for men.
A desire to get more women into STEM fields is not new, but at Thursday’s summit, panelists expressed frustration at the lack of progress.
“The percentage of women going into STEM hasn’t changed very much,” said Alexander Triantis, Dean and professor at the University of Maryland Smith School for Business. “There are more than 4,000 organizations that have programs for women and STEM, but clearly, that’s not enough.”
Is Confidence a Concern?
There are many theories to explain the scarcity of women in STEM fields. Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls Code said that young girls are often drawn to these fields in elementary school, but hit a crisis of confidence in middle school.
“Girls begin with an interest in math & science and somewhere along the line that changes,” she said.
ABC News report Claire Shipman offered a keynote address in which she discussed her book, “The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance,” which offers data suggesting that women tend to underestimate their own skills and abilities. This can impact everything from negotiating a starting salary to pursuing more challenging degrees or careers.
“Women will usually underestimate how they performed, while men overestimate how they performed,” Shipman said.