Little Progress in Advancing Women in STEM Jobs in the Federal Workforce

A new study by Edward Kellough of the University of Georgia and Lawrence A. Brown II at the University of Illinois finds that despite efforts to diversify the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, women remain underrepresented in STEM fields in federal jobs. The study found that the percentage of women in federal STEM jobs hasn’t changed since 2005. The researchers also found that women quit those jobs at a disproportionately high rate.

The researchers analyzed employment at all 15 Cabinet-level departments in the federal government and two agencies with substantial STEM employment — NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency — from 2005 to 2018. They found that on average, fewer than one in four STEM jobs were held by women in the Air Force, Army, Navy, the departments of Energy and Transportation, and NASA. Women account for less than 30 percent of STEM jobs in the departments of Veterans Affairs, State, Interior, Homeland Security, Defense, and Commerce.

But one factor seemed to make a difference in women’s STEM employment levels: more women in supervisory positions. In those agencies where more women are in supervisory roles and support for diversity is stronger, such as the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of the Treasury, the percentage of female STEM employees hovers around 42 percent. These were the only two departments where the percentage of women in STEM jobs was above 40 percent.

Although more female bosses translated to more women in the workforce, the researchers found that having women in supervisory positions didn’t staunch the hemorrhaging of female STEM employees leaving their jobs. For example, women made up 38 percent of the STEM workforce at the Environmental Protection Agency but they were 53 percent of the employees who left their jobs.

“These positions are important, and we are not making a great deal of progress in bringing women into STEM jobs in any sort of equitable numbers,” said Edward Kellough, lead author of the study and a professor in School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. “The key takeaway of our study is that one way to help improve the representation of women in STEM jobs is to increase their presence amongst STEM supervisors in those organizations.”

The full study, “Agency Variation in the Employment of Women in U.S. Federal STEM Jobs: The Impact of Female Supervisors,” was published in the journal Public Personnel Management. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/StudySTEM Fields

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