Madison ranks high for women in STEM jobs
Much work remains to be done to close the gender gap in STEM fields, however, as men still represent more than two-thirds of STEM professionals.
Achieving greater diversity in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics has long been an uphill battle, but signs are pointing to steady — albeit noticeably slow — growth in the number of women being employed in the sector. Perhaps not surprisingly, Madison is helping lead the way.
According to the latest data from CommercialCafe, which updated its own rankings from last year, Madison is the No. 3 city in the Midwest for women working in STEM, making the jump from the seventh spot it held in 2020.
Among the highlights from the research:
- Madison ranked third among midwestern U.S. cities, with a total score of 10.15 points out of a possible 30 points, trailing only Chicago (15.45) and Minneapolis (10.57). Madison ranked 33rd overall nationally out of 120 cities included in the study.
- Among the Midwestern states — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin — Wisconsin trailed only Ohio in number of cities ranked nationally as part of the study with both Madison and Milwaukee (No. 10 in the Midwest) making the list.
- STEM jobs in Madison account for 14.7% of total employment, and women hold 30.3% of the jobs in this sector.
- The city also ranked sixth in the region for women STEM workers’ median income ($57,656), which saw a 62.2% increase since 2015 — the largest growth among the cities on this list.
- Nationally, the top three cities for women working in STEM are New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.
For this study, CommercialCafe looked at 12 metrics, including the percentage of STEM jobs out of the total of all jobs, the number of STEM jobs held by women, and the median annual income of women residents who work in STEM, and it ranked 120 U.S. cities with populations of 200,000 or more.
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, STEM occupations were expected to undergo rapid growth, along with health care, creative fields, and business services,” writes Ioana Gînsac for CommercialCafe. “In fact, employment projections published in January by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that STEM occupations would likely grow 8% by 2029, compared to 3.7% growth for all occupations.
“Meanwhile, female representation in STEM fields remains disproportionately low. Specifically, even though women outnumber men among college graduates in the U.S., they continue to be vastly underrepresented in most STEM fields and majors.”
Several women STEM professionals contributed to the CommercialCafe study and shared their thoughts about what encouraged or inspired them to pursue working in STEM and also what they found to be the biggest hurdle to STEM careers for women.
“I was encouraged by my high school biology teacher,” says Katerina Akassoglou, Ph.D., director, Center for Neurovascular Brain Immunology; senior investigator, Gladstone Institutes; professor, Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco. “I am first generation to college, and I had no role models in STEM as I was growing up. In fact, it had not crossed my mind that my deep interest in science could be linked to a potential career path. My high school biology teacher recognized my passion for science and helped me to connect the dots between scientific curiosity and carving a career path in STEM.
“A defining moment was when she informed me that laboratories accept summer interns,” Akassoglou adds. “Spending a summer working as an intern at an immunology lab was inspiring and exciting and, that summer, I knew that I would pursue working in STEM.”
Recounting the hurdles she’s seen, Akassoglou notes, “I am an out-of-the-box thinker and finding the necessary recourses to support new ideas has been a challenge and an opportunity that paved the way for fantastic collaborations, unanticipated discoveries and, hopefully, new ways to combat devastating brain diseases.”
Nikole Collins-Puri, CEO of Techbridge Girls, originally pursued political science with the hope of going to law school so she could change policies and systems for her community. “As I was waiting to transition to law school, I landed an internship at AT&T that changed my perspective of the power of the tech industry and shaping social norms and creating access for communities,” she recalls. “Ironically, my internship led to a 10-year career that started off bringing digital subscriber line (DSL) into U.S. households and ended with leading diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy for the company’s largest department. That journey grounded my leadership and fueled my passion to addressing the digital divide.
“After my work with AT&T, I deepened my understanding of education policy and philanthropy so that I understood all the systems that could prevent or propel girls’ STEM pursuit,” Collins-Puri continues. “My career path was the perfect combination to understand inequities through a lived experience; learn about the systems that perpetuate the barriers impacting our girls’ persistence toward STEM; and how investments propel solutions that will dismantle oppressive systems that are preventing us from truly realizing the full potential of a STEM revolution.”
On the challenges women face when pursuing careers in STEM, Collins-Puri shares, “When we talk about STEM and girls, often the emphasis is on what our girls lack and the actual word STEM. But our girls and STEM are not the issue. Remember, science, technology, engineering, and math are disciplines and subject matters. STEM is not telling our girls they don’t belong, are not ready, or uninterested. But our girls are being asked to show up in a place that doesn’t embrace and value their unique experience and brilliance through her lens versus a white male dominant lens.
Why, she asks, would a girl show up if she can’t be her full self? “The challenge is that we — adults, systems, and structures — get in our girls’ way in their desires to pursue STEM. It’s making sure educators can deliver equitable STEM programming that is relevant and relatable to the experiences and gifts that our girls bring; it’s about galvanizing a support network of folks that influence, encourage and advocate for our girls during their journey — from families to STEM professionals; and it’s about the public discussion: do our policies, practices, and institutions really understand what it takes to support girls and does it elevate all girls’ voices, not just those who have access and privilege? So, the hurdle is around what we emphasize on trying to improve this challenge.”
During her 37-year information technology career, Teri Bruns, a 2018 Women of Industry award winner, has helped several young women climb the ladder. It’s one of the joys of being vice president of Tanzu Partner Ecosystem for VMWare, but bringing change to this male-dominated industry has had its fits and starts.
To diversify these high-paying occupations, which is essential to reduce the pay gap between men and women, Bruns believes women must be willing to go outside their comfort zone. “We are being more inclusive but it’s not happening quickly enough, and frankly we don’t have enough women who started their careers 10 years ago, 20 years ago, in the field,” she told IB in 2019. “So, it tends to get tougher and tougher.”
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