Challenges Women face in STEM fields | Career Development

challenges women face

In this era, where feminism is manifested worldwide, one of the major concerns is to advocate social equality of the sexes. And this gender equality is not only bound to provide primary education and health basics to women, but rather it also demands representation of women in fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). But unfortunately there underrepresentation is persistent even in this advanced world and women have to face many challenges in this field.

Starting with general facts and figures I want you to remember the number 29.1%. It is the percentage of women currently working in science both in part-time and full-time positions across the world. It is shockingly low especially if you follow the trail from the beginning. According to research, 53 percent of undergraduate science enrollments are female, that number rises slightly to 55 percent at masters level, decreases to 44 percent at Ph.D. because that’s not everybody’s cup of tea. But when you get into the workplace you will find only 29.1% of female, thus women are disappearing and leaking out of the science pipeline.


Below is the review of three researchers about the challenges women face in the STEM fields.

~ Dr. Chioma Chikere is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. According to her, “there is a deeply chauvinistic society where men are in positions of leadership and women are not allowed for a position of leadership and it is hunting research in Africa.”. 

~Dr. Hannah Karuri is an editor for the Agriculture and Food Security section of Scientific African. She said, “So far, I have not faced gender discrimination at my university, but colleagues in other universities have expressed their disappointment at the high levels of discrimination in getting promotions and the types of duties assigned to them. In most instances, women have to work twice as hard as men to get what they want.”

~Dr. Rabab El-Sherif is a Professor of Physical Chemistry at the Faculty of Science of Cairo University in Egypt. She believes that we face certain types of discrimination as women in science. For instance, the position of president of a university is usually given to a male – women did not achieve this position. Also, some supervisors prefer working with male researchers rather than women; they found men more professional  


According to research, Women in STEM face challenges that can be categorized into two broad categories.

  • Discrimination

This leakage may be due to discrimination faced by women in STEM fields. According to Schiebinger, women are twice as likely to leave jobs in science and engineering as men are [1]. In most of the job positions, male candidates are considered more competent than the female candidate, despite applications being identical.

  • Stereotypes

Stereotypes about what someone in the STEM field should be like may cause established members of these fields to overlook highly competent individuals. According to these stereotypes, women may not fit in this field. People consider young girls unskilled in STEM fields. Because of stereotypes, society and females themselves believe their skill sets live in the social aspects of society.

  • Lack of Mentorship

For a woman to decide whether she can continue pursuing a career in their discipline, they need support from a mentor. Younger individuals face obstacles in their careers and need help and guidance. Although there are some mentorship programs are running like Million Women Mentors [2], but to increase women ratio in STEM fields many more such programs are required.

  • Lack of support

Some of the women who got the chance to enter into this field have to step out due to inflexible working conditions, marital affairs, and sexually discriminating standards against women. Most of the time they have to stand out against their families. They get insufficient support to excel in their fields, due to which they have to abandon their dreams.

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  • Harassment

Workplace harassment is undoubtedly a pulling force for women to work. The UN reports that 40-50% of women in EU countries and 30-40% of women in Asia-Pacific countries experience some form of workplace sexual harassment. In a 2014 survey of more than 600 field scientists, 71% of women said that they had been sexually harassed. Some 22% of working women in the U.S. say they have experienced sexual harassment at work, compared with 7% of working men.

challenges women face
  • Lack of interest

Interview studies have shown that non-STEM academic majors offer better education options and also matched the interests of female students. This provides them a reason to switch from STEM areas to non-STEM areas. The remaining 38% of females expressed concerns that there might be other academic areas that might be a better fit for their interests.

  • Lack of confidence

Lack of opportunity in STEM fields might be due to a lack of self-confidence in girls. Women believe they are not qualified for science fields. 35% of women stated that their reason for leaving math subjects was due to a lack of understanding of the material. The overwhelming stereotypes harm the confidence of women and they feel inappropriate for this field.

  • Mentality of people

The majority of people have negative impacts their minds regarding working women especially women working in field jobs. They don’t consider it suitable for their females. They don’t allow them to pursue a career in such fields as civil and mechanical. Society forces women, having an interest in science fields to opt for biology subjects just because they consider it compatible with a female.

These are only some of the challenges women face in STEM fields. There is quite a long list of them but we have to observe them and find their solutions. Solving the problem requires action on two fronts, according to women in the field: 1) Bring talented women into the STEM fields and 2) Keep them there. Many institutes conduct programs and initiatives to combat these issues and increase public awareness. A nonprofit summer program in Computer Science “Girls Who Code” is providing a great platform to enhance their skills. 

In a nutshell, we all should play our role to encourage the women to opt in the field of their interest regardless of gender bias. All they need is to enjoy what they are doing.

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