Is It Too Late To Start a STEM Career?

When you graduated high school and went to college, did you really know what you wanted from a future career?  

An interesting statistic from college graduates is that 61% of those polled by Bestcolleges said they would change their major because it didn’t align with the outcomes they wanted from their life. Around 26% said if they could choose their major again, it would align with their passion and another 25% said they would have changed their major for better job opportunities.

If 25% of college graduates would have changed their major for better job opportunities and snag a higher-paying job, then what you should see is more high school graduates leaning towards careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields as these industries typically dominate lists of the most in-demand jobs and highest-earning college majors.

Women In STEM

If the number of jobs in STEM is in such high demand, then why are there only 28% of women working in STEM fields compared to 72% of men? With the increasing emphasis today of gender equality, you would imagine this would result in more women working in STEM-related fields. Not only are women underrepresented in STEM fields, but there are even fewer women of color where only 1 in 20 employed scientists and engineers are Hispanic or black. 

Although young girls are exposed to Science, Technology Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers from a young age, careers in STEM are still predominantly male. Females do not have less aptitude than males when it comes to the sciences. Females are doing as well if not better than males in STEM subjects as the test results from 67 countries and regions reveal. These results demonstrate that women are more than capable of occupying jobs in STEM-related fields.

Schools need to create STEM programming that engages female students earlier in their elementary and secondary school years.  Creating the next generation of scientists and engineers is critical to the economy and given the skills shortages in STEM-related fields, this begs the question, “Is it too late for females college undergrads and graduates to start learning STEM?”

Attracting Women Into STEM Roles

There is a considerable lack of female role models, mentors, and leaders working in STEM which has a dramatic impact on women pursuing a career in these fields. It is important to ensure girls and young women have strong female role models to look up to to meet the future demand for STEM jobs. Organizations like Women in STEM are actively developing programs to combat the attitude surrounding women in STEM along with the limited opportunities in high schools for females to study math and the sciences. To raise awareness of the gender disparity, teachers must be equipped with the educational resources to prepare the next generation of women to become effective problem solvers and innovators.

The gender disparity in STEM fields is widely recognized therefore there must be a concerted effort across the board to attract more girls and young women into science. Typically, the women attracted to STEM subjects want to make a difference. According to Million Women Mentors (MWM), 70% of females who pursue STEM subjects in high school, select the biological sciences, thinking a career in medical professions is the best way to make a difference without considering engineering and information technology.

Techbridge Girls, a nonprofit organization, are inspiring girls in the sciences by opening minds and doors for girls by championing equity in STEM education in ways that did not exist a few years ago. Techbridge designs and delivers fun STEM programs and learning experiences to marginalized girls across the USA. They have provided after-school and summer programs exposing a broad range of STEM disciplines for over 7,000 girls. Over 82% of the girls who participated in these programs reported that they are more interested in STEM careers as a result.

Mid-Career Changes Offer Greater Opportunity Than Ever

The old idea of working for the same company for 45 years culminating with a gold watch at the end of your career is gone. 

According to the 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average number of jobs most people will have in a lifetime is 12. Between the ages of 18-24, the average number of jobs is 5.7 which decreased to 4.5 between 25-34 years old. Between the ages of 35-44, this went down to an average of 2.9, and during the most established phase of their careers, most only held a job for an average of 1.9 years. Interestingly the BLS survey revealed women held almost as many jobs as men throughout their careers with an average of 12.1 compared to 12.5 for men, despite taking more time out of their careers for child-rearing duties. The BLS also noted the job sectors with the highest median tenure include management, engineering, legal, and education. Given these statistics, it’s never too late to start learning STEM.

The most common reasons for women wanting to move to a career in STEM:

  • Higher pay and better benefits.
  • Career advancement and changing career focus.
  • Better work-life balance and more interesting work.
  • Escaping toxic environments and incompetent bosses.
  • Better work schedule and a less stressful environment.
  • Lack of recognition and opportunities for advancement.
  • Better alignment with personal values and organizational priorities.

Women need not worry about how many jobs they have on their resume as it is now generally accepted, that women will change jobs and careers for a plethora of reasons. When considering a move into STEM fields, women need to be mindful that it is important to research careers and trends in STEM, what additional qualifications they may need, what percentage of their skills are transferable along with networking and connecting with potential new employers.

Moving To A Career In STEM

Most new graduates look for a job related to what they majored in college. What might happen after a few years in the workforce, you discover you aren’t enjoying your work as much as you thought you would. It might be the occupation you chose isn’t a good fit for you and you begin to consider a career change. The good news is, if you are aged 30 or less, you still have a good 35 years or more work ahead of you and it is not too late to move into a STEM-related field where the opportunities for women are boundless. 

Of course, moving into a STEM role means you must factor in education and training.  With many more years of work ahead of you, don’t be tempted to cross STEM off your list because you may need to go back to school. As part of the decision-making process, consider your transferable skills and the experience you have gained in the workforce to date. Some employers may credit you with your experience and transferable skills as a substitute for formal training especially if you have come from a management and leadership position where your problem-solving skills were critical to your success. 

The decision to transfer into a STEM-related field will come down to how much time and effort you are willing to make. If you are determined to make the career change, instead of looking at the short term, consider the long term return on in investment (ROI) particularly if a career in STEM offers better job opportunities, career progression, and an increase in salary. For instance, the average payback period for an MBA is only 55 months, you may find this to be less going to school to learn STEM making your investment in time and money worth it.

Why You Should Consider STEM Careers

Going into a STEM-related field is a great way to snag a higher paying job for those with a STEM-related degree get paid 63% more on average compared with other bachelor degrees.

If you are thinking to move into a career in STEM, now is the perfect time for it is an industry that is quickly growing. For instance, in cybersecurity alone, there is a zero unemployment rate presenting vast opportunities for women to move into this field. According to the Office of Science and Technology Policy, “STEM students and researchers is not only an essential part of America’s strategy to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world; it is also important to women themselves.” STEM careers offer women the opportunity to engage in the exciting world of technological innovation and research.

There is no better opportunity than right now for women to start learning STEM either as an undergraduate or graduate for the opportunities are endless. With the onset of the coronavirus, unemployment in the US currently sits at 20.6% the highest level since 1934. You would think that this would mean fewer opportunities for women to find a new job, however, before COVID-19 the unemployment rate in technology was the lowest in recorded history. To fill the void meant employers needed to bring in technology specialists from abroad. The US government has now suspended H-1B and other visas, making recruiting high-quality tech workers from abroad even more difficult opening the door for more women in the US to pursue a career in technology right now.

Organizations Promoting Women In STEM

There are many organizations out there that promote women in STEM along with scholarships and programs helping women bridge the STEM gap. Numerous universities and colleges are sponsoring summer programs in STEM for young girls aimed at piquing their interest in elementary school, middle school, and high school with the hope they go on to study STEM-related fields in college.

  • National Math and Science Initiative (NMS) increasing the number of high school science and math teachers with degrees in the subjects they teach.
  • Women in Engineering Proactive Network (WEPAN) supporting a network of female engineering students.
  • American Association of University Women (AAUW) focused on integrating women into STEM.
  • National Girls Collaborative Project (NCGP) giving girls access to resources that enhance STEM education and interest.
  • Million Women Mentors (MWM) aims to find one million men and women to mentor girls through high, college, and beyond to prevent them from leaving STEM fields.
  • Smiths College offers a four-week summer residential program in Science and Engineering for young women interested in  STEM.
  • Texas Tech University offers K-8 and high school students a residential camping experience allowing them to explore many aspects of STEM.

More women tend to major in the biological sciences than any other STEM fields however the possibilities for women to learn computer science/technology, engineering, and math are increasing exponentially.  STEM jobs are among the highest paid jobs in America for women where they have an equal opportunity to excel and bridge the gender and pay gap. It is never too late to start learning STEM.

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