Not known for his proper treatment of women or science, President Trump, in a welcoming, surprising move, just signed two bills designed to recruit more women to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs.
“We want American women who graduate from college with STEM degrees to be able to get STEM jobs that can support their families and help these American women to live out the American Dream, which they are so qualified to live out,” the President remarked.
The first bill encourages the National Science Foundation to recruit and support women to work in STEM fields. As of right now, only a quarter of women who attain degrees in STEM fields actually work a STEM job.
The second bill, sentimentally known as the INSPIRE Act, requires NASA to use its astronauts, scientists, engineers, and innovators to “inspire the next generation of women” to pursue a career in STEM.
These passages are the first two conventionally “pro-science” stances Trump has taken since he took office. There’s no doubt that these bills are a positive step towards helping women advance in the STEM fields. But is this just Trump’s way of paying lip service to women and the science community?
Women have long been underrepresented in the STEM workforce. For a demographic that makes up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, women comprise a mere 29 percent of the science and engineering fields, according to the National Science Foundation’s, Science & Engineering Indicators (NSF). The report noted that, while women occupy significant portions of the social sciences (62 percent), they are almost completely missing in the fields of engineering (15 percent) computer, and mathematical sciences (25 percent).
As if that’s not damning enough, look at some numbers from the Bureau of Labor:
-34 percent of computer systems analysts are women
-21 percent computer programmers are women
-18 percent of software developers are women
-11 percent of aerospace engineers are women
-13 percent of computer hardware engineers are women
To be fair to men, they, too, are struggling to find jobs in STEM. The 2012 census reports only 25 percent men and women who majored in a STEM subject found work in the STEM field; however, this number looked even worse for women, with only 14 percent finding work in the field.
The problem for women in science, though, is often rooted in hiring and retainment rather than their scientific education. A study out of the National Center for Education Statistics reports women earn over 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, and they hold slightly over 50 percent of all science and engineering bachelor’s degrees—it’s important to note that the majority of these other science degrees fall under the biological and life sciences.
While the numbers indicate women are clearly in pursuit of STEM degrees, there still seems to be a disconnect between education and entering the workforce. Studies have shown numerous biases against women in technological fields. A 2012 NSF study saw that, in the research field, male applicants were viewed as significantly more competent and hirable than women with identical applications. Along the same vein, a 2014 NSF study found that both men and women were twice as likely to hire a man for a job that required math.
As if the inherent bias against women weren’t enough, in a study conducted by the American Psychological Association, over a third (38 percent) of women who earned engineering degrees either quit field or never even entered the profession. On top of that, the nonprofit Talent Innovation found that 32 percent of women intend on leaving their STEM job after one year. Women who leave cite “isolation, hostile male-dominated work environments, ineffective executive feedback, and a lack of effective sponsors” as the primary reason for leaving STEM jobs, according to a Harvard Business Review analysis reported by Catalyst.
Ideally, this bill can combat and amend these biases, feelings of isolation, and inherent sexism women in STEM fight. “This bill encourages the National Science Foundation to tackle the problem that only 26 percent of women who attain degrees in STEM fields work in STEM jobs.”
Any attempt to even the playing field and advance innovation is likely to help not only women but also the country as a whole. Kudos to Trump and the House for recognizing this.
Who wouldn’t support a bill designed to “encourage women and girls to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics and to pursue careers that will further advance America’s space science and exploration efforts?”
The INSPIRE Act it’s so cheesily called—also requires NASA to use existing astronauts, scientists, engineers, and innovators to “inspire the next generation of women to consider participating in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and to pursue careers in aerospace.”
It sounds damn good on paper, especially for someone who denies and decries science as much as he does.
Let’s not forget that back in 2016, when questioned on “women in STEM,” the President dismissively commented: “There are a host of STEM programs already in existence,” as published by Scientific American. Clearly, this bill wasn’t on his radar as recently as two months ago, when it was initially proposed by R-VA Barbara Comstock.
Let’s also not forget that Trump’s cabinet is stuffed with an anti-science, anti-climate change army. His head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, wants to dismantle the EPA, a $9 billion science organization. His pick for Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, is not a scientist—unless you equate “animal science” with nuclear physics—but he is a climate change skeptic and someone who advocated dismantling the Energy Department as recently as 2012. Trump tapped Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon CEO, for Secretary of State. Tillerson, unlike the picks above, acknowledges climate change, but he’s also been accused of hiding climate change research for years. Oh, and Trump himself, is anti-vaccine, which, in a way, is also anti-science.
Going off Trump’s current science directives in his 2018 budget plan, the EPA budget will be cut by 40 percent. Within the EPA, Trump plans to remove 97 percent of funding toward Great Lakes restoration—because who needs fresh water. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will be gutted.
Trump also signed an Executive Order to review the EPA’s Clean Water Rule, which essentially ensures safe drinking water to over 100 million Americans. Weakening this rule allows a little more fracking and a little less regulation.
Needless to say, it sounds pretty paradoxical for the President to encourage women to take up STEM careers when, based on the man’s current track record of undermining science, there probably won’t be many STEM jobs remaining.
Ultimately, yes, the signing of these two STEM bills are great for women and great for science. That said, the big picture still suggests Trump’s policies are threatening, not friendly, to both.
Top photo by GrrlScientist CC BY 2.0
Tom Burson is a travel writer, part-time hitchhiker, and he’s currently trying to imitate Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? but with more sunscreen and jorts.