Breaking Barriers For Women in STEM

Jul 17, 2019 | First Person

By Monica Stynchula, National Women’s Business Council Member

In 2018, The State of Girls and Women in STEM found that the rates of science and engineering course-taking for women shift at the undergraduate level and gender differences start to emerge. Only 19 percent of engineering degrees and 18 percent of computer sciences degrees are earned by women. Although past data shows underrepresentation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), recent research from the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC)—a non-partisan, independent federal advisory committee established to provide advice and policy recommendations to the President, Congress and the Administrator of the Small Business Administration—found that millennials, and women in particular, are the most educated generation to date and that entrepreneurship courses are expanding significantly on college campuses. According to the ‘Profile of Millennial Women: The Future of Entrepreneurship in America’ report, 36.4 percent of millennial women entrepreneurs have received an Associate Degree or higher. Millennial women are also the most likely generation to hold a degree in a STEM field, but does that mean women are starting businesses in STEM?

We know that women business owners have a tremendous impact on the U.S. economy, generating $1.8 trillion in revenue. Yet The National Science Foundation found that women are still underrepresented in the STEM fields. In fact, women constitute 47 percent of the overall workforce, but only 28 percent of the science and engineering workforce. With such a low representation of women in the overall STEM workforce, dismal rates of women’s entrepreneurship in STEM come as no surprise. NWBC’s comparison of self-employment rates in STEM fields based on 2015 ACS data reveals that men are roughly twice as likely to be self-employed in STEM fields relative to women. Further, only 5 percent of tech startups are operated by women, yet these firms generate 12 percent higher revenue than male-run startups. This year, NWBC is committed to expanding opportunities for women’s business enterprise in STEM.

As a proud member of NWBC, I can bring my experiences working in healthcare to the table. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey data, 77.8 percent of women who choose to be self-employed in STEM occupations work predominantly in health occupations. NWBC’s STEM Entrepreneurship subcommittee is delving into the “why” behind that statistic, and we have identified two pathways to encourage and engage more women entrepreneurs in the STEM fields: Education and Capital. 

Although 53 percent of all college graduates are women, in 2016, only 7 percent earned a degree that could be classified as STEM. Numerous universities, non-profits, associations and companies invest in furthering STEM education, and NWBC is determining how we can help bolster their efforts. If the rate of STEM degrees earned by women increases, it could spark growth and investment in STEM entrepreneurship.

NWBC is especially interested in encouraging women-led businesses with high-growth aspirations and potential by expanding access to federal programs, proposing policies that stimulate participation in STEM, and raising awareness of women’s potential as an economic and social powerhouse in our nation. Women are significantly underrepresented in high-tech occupations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women only account for 25 percent of computer and mathematical occupations. One of the largest barriers for women entrepreneurs continues to be access to capital. With women earning less than 2.7 percent of venture capital dollars in 2018, one can understand why women in STEM fields find it difficult to start and grow their business.

When I was growing my small business, REUNIONCare, a healthcare provider portal connecting doctors, agencies and community-based services into one central communication, people constantly told me that I had to “spend money to make money.” I soon learned that success came from developing the right skills and finding the best opportunities to make money. I wanted to transform patient care by empowering caregivers and communities to partner together. Through collaboration and mentorship, REUNIONCare grew to what it is today. 

Pairing the skills I’ve acquired throughout my journey with a passion for helping others, I have learned that advocating and guiding each other is crucial. I have also had the unbelievable opportunity to support other women and men in the caregiving space. Through the Caregiver Accelerator, women and men can grow and scale their companies to further their reach and continue to advance the caregiving marketplace.

As advocates for the nation’s estimated 12.3 million women-owned businesses, NWBC strives to encourage women to start and grow their businesses in STEM. Since women only comprise one-quarter of the STEM workforce, it is time to break the barriers that keep women from reaching their full potential.

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