Since the early 2000s, awareness of gender imbalances coupled with corrective efforts have helped to increase the number of women working in fields previously dominated by men, including law, business, and medicine. Yet despite the initiatives to actively recruit women in STEM, gender gap in STEM persists – and interestingly, it seems that cultural expectations for women who become parents may be affecting the quest for equality.
In an effort to understand why women still underrepresented in STEM fields, researchers have studied parenthood and how it affects the American workforce. Most of the American workforce will become parents during their working lives. As suspected, researchers found that new mothers are more likely to leave full-time STEM jobs than new fathers after the birth or adoption of their first child
Co-authors Erin Cech, a sociologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor , and Mary Blair-Loy, founder of the Center for Research on Gender in the Professions at the University of California, San Diego, analyzed an eight-year longitudinal sample of STEM professionals in the United States. Using the data from the sample, the authors examined the career paths of new parents compared to their childless peers. The analysis concluded that significant attrition occurs for new mothers. After four to seven years of the birth or adoption of a first child, 43 percent of women left their full-time STEM jobs, compared to 23 percent of new fathers
. than men leave their full-time STEM jobs, but relate to stereotypical gender roles that are upheld and perpetuated by the mainstream society
"As we note in the paper, although fathers are taking a greater role in childrearing now than in generations past, mothers still shoulder ̵
However, the authors emphasized that parenthood is not only a "mother's problem," since the rate at which men leave is also notable. In other words, parenthood is a barrier for all who work in STEM
"The difficulty that these professionals may face in balancing caregiving responsibilities with full-time STEM employment suggests that this issue is a concern for the STEM workforce broadly and not just for the retention of women, "the authors state in the study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Thus, scholarly and policy literature framing childrearing responsibilities as the only female problem is short-sighted."
The path for new mothers who leave their full-time jobs also varies. According to the study, based on the data analyzed, 11% of new mothers switched to part-time STEM work by 2010. At first glance, this may seem reasonable, but the authors explain there are pitfalls for part-time work
"Although part-time jobs keep new mothers in STEM in some capacity, they have several disadvantages: they typically pay substantially less than a full-time job, are less likely to be accompanied by benefits like healthcare, and less likely to provide advancement
"These patterns suggest that a roadblock in women's career advancement, that is, that this is a problem not only for those who work in STEM, but also for the future of their work. their men colleagues do not do the same degree, "Cech said, adding that the departure of these women is a loss for scientific advancement. "Their departure means a loss of knowledge and expertise from STEM that is unfavorable to innovation and scientific inquiry."
Leslie Field, PhD, Founder, Board Chair and CTO of Ice911, and Climate Change Nonprofit, told Salon she left her full -time engineering job to start her own consulting firm, partly to give her more flexible hours as a parent. She agreed that when these fields do not provide new mothers with flexibility in their work, it is not only a barrier for the industry, but also for the future of work in the field, too
"I think on things like climate change, women bring a gut-level deeper understanding, "she said. "I think we bring a little different perspective that is really helpful, when you're setting up teams and collaborating, you want the multiple views in the room."