STEM 2.10 Underrepresentation in STEM

The previous sections have identified the need and demand for STEM professionals. One way to meet the workforce demand is to increase the participation of those underrepresented in STEM careers. Women, Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Alaska Natives, and persons with disabilities are significantly underrepresented in most STEM disciplines.

Gender Gap in STEM

Since 2000, women have earned approximately half of all S&E bachelor’s degrees [1]. However, further examination reveals a significant gender gap in degrees earned in many STEM disciplines such as engineering, computer science, and physics. The gap also exists at the trade and associate’s levels for careers such as electricians and technicians. At the graduate level, the gaps in STEM are equally prevalent, especially for minority groups.

The disparity is not because girls aren’t good at STEM. On average, girls receive higher grades in school in every subject including mathematics and science, earn more credits in math and science courses, and have a higher combined GPA in math and science courses than do boys [2-5].

Despite these achievements, girls are not readily choosing many STEM college majors and career paths; instead they are more likely to pursue degrees in the humanities and life and social sciences [6]. Social and environmental factors contribute to this underrepresentation; thus, intentional and focused intervention efforts targeting women are recommended to address the gender gap in STEM [7].

Fast Facts:

  • Hispanic or Latinos represent only 5% of computer and information scientists, although they represent 16% of the U.S. population. Women represent only 23% of computer and information scientists, and Hispanic or Latina women represent only a dismal 1.3%.
  • Blacks or African Americans comprise 12.2% of the U.S. population but hold only 4.6% of all S&E jobs.
  • Less than 1% of engineering professors are black women (0.75%).
  • Persons with disabilities represent 20% of the entire labor force, but only 6% of the science and engineering labor force.
  • American Indian and Alaska Natives represent 1.2% of the population, yet only 0.03% of employed scientists and engineers.
  • Women earn 18.4% of undergraduate degrees in engineering, but represent only 12.7% of employed engineers. In 2001, women earned 28% of undergraduate degrees in computer science, but in 2010 women earned only 18%, a stark decline!
  1. NSF, 2009, NSF Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering Report. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.
  2. Dwyer, C. and L. Johnson, 1997, Grades, accomplishments, and correlates, pp.127-156, in Gender and Fair Assessment, W.W. Willingham and N.S. Cole (eds.), Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  3. Kimball, M.M., (1989), A new perspective on women’s math achievement, Psychological Bulletin, 105, 198-214.
  4. Shettle, C., et al., 2007, The Nation’s Report Card: America’s High School Graduates, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  5. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2007, The Nation’s Report Card: America’s High School Graduates 2005 (NCES 2007-467). Available from:
  6. Lubinski, D., and C.P. Benbow, 2006, Study of mathematically precocious youth after 35 years: Uncovering antecedents for the development of math-science expertise, Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1(4), 316.
  7. Congressional Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science Engineering and Technology Development, 2000, Land of Plenty: Diversity as America’s Competitive Edge in Science, Engineering and Technology. Available from: