In order to remain competitive and innovative in science and technology, we must close the gender gap and harness the full potential of the female STEM workforce in the United States. Women are widely underrepresented both in STEM jobs and STEM undergraduate degrees. Although women make up close to half of the U.S. workforce, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs.[i] There appears to be a disconnection between women with STEM degrees and STEM jobs. About 40 percent (2.7 million) of men with STEM college degrees work in STEM jobs, while only 26 percent (0.6 million) of women with STEM degrees work in STEM jobs.[i] The numbers make it clear that we need to encourage and support women in STEM.
Several factors may contribute to the disproportionate number of women in STEM majors and jobs, such as gender stereotyping, less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields, and a lack of female role models.
There is certainly no shortage of female role models at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the federal agency that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. NIOSH employs over 500 female workers –nearly 40% of the workforce- in a wide range of jobs including epidemiologists, physicians, and engineers.
Some of these talented women are featured in the new NIOSH Women in Science video series. They discuss their journeys to science, challenges and experiences along the way, work duties, and how they balance work with family. Also, they offer advice to aspiring scientists, encouraging girls and young women to pursue careers in STEM.
- Like detectives, epidemiologists investigate the causes of injury or illness to prevent them from happening again.[ii] In the movie Contagion, the character played by Kate Winslet was an epidemiologist trying to understand the cause and progression of the outbreak.
- Epidemiologists study a variety of public health areas including infectious disease, chronic disease, occupational health, and injury. At NIOSH, epidemiologists perform the vital work of determining whether workers in a given industry, occupation, or work site are suffering an unexpectedly large number or rate of injury, illness, or death, and why this may be so.
- John Snow is considered the father of modern epidemiology for his work in identifying a water pump to be the source of a cholera outbreak in London in 1854.[iii]
Health Communication Specialist
- Health communication is the study and use of communication strategies to inform and influence individual decisions that enhance health.[iv]
- Health communication specialists use science to determine the best methods of sharing health information. For example, they evaluate the effectiveness of using certain channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, for specific audiences.
- At NIOSH, health communication specialists work behind the scenes with researchers to develop user-friendly fact sheets on the prevention of work-related disease and injury.
- Medical officers in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps are at the frontlines of public health. At NIOSH, medical officers detect and investigate occupational health problems, research and implement prevention strategies, and develop and advocate health policies.
- The Commissioned Corps is one of America’s seven uniformed services.
- The earliest evidence of occupational medicine can be traced to the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, written approximately 1700 BC.[v]
- The word engineer is derived from the Latin root ingeniare, which means to devise in the sense of construct, or craftsmanship.[vi]
- Only about one out of every seven engineers is female. [i]
- Within the 4 major branches of engineering (chemical, civil, electrical, and mechanical), there are over 25 engineering subdisciplines.[vii] Engineers at NIOSH work in a variety of areas, including electronics, mining, and environmental health.
- Psychology is the scientific study of the behavior of individuals and their mental processes.[viii]
- Psychologists can work in variety of settings such as hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, schools, and government agencies.[ix]
- At NIOSH, occupational health psychologists apply psychology to improving the quality of work life, and to protecting and promoting the safety, health and well-being of workers.
[i] Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation, ESA Issue Brief #04-11, August 2011; URL http://www.esa.doc.gov/sites/default/files/reports/documents/womeninstemagaptoinnovation8311.pdf