Since the early 2000s, awareness of gender imbalances, combined with correctional efforts, has helped to increase the number of women working in areas previously dominated by men, including law, commerce and medicine. . Yet, despite initiatives to actively recruit women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), the gender gap persists – and it is worth noting that cultural expectations for women who become parents could affect the quest for equality.
In an effort to understand why women are still underrepresented in the STEM fields, the researchers explored parenting and its impact on the American workforce. A majority of the American workforce will become parents during their working lives. As might be suspected, the researchers found that new mothers are more likely to leave STEM jobs than new mothers after the birth or adoption of their first child.
Erin Cech, a sociologist at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and Mary Blair-Loy, founding director of the Center for Gender Research in Occupations at the University of California at San Diego, analyzed eight years longitudinal sample of STEM professionals in the United States. With the help of sample data, the authors examined the career paths of new parents versus their peers without children. The analysis concluded that attrition is important for new mothers. After four to seven years of birth or adoption of a first child, 43% of women quit their full-time jobs in STEM, compared with 23% of new fathers.
The authors state that the reasons why more women than men leave their full-time jobs in STEMs vary, but are linked to stereotyped gender roles that are maintained and perpetuated by society in general.
"As we note in the paper, although fathers play a more important role in the education of children than in the past, mothers still bear – and are supposed to assume – the lion's share of childcare responsibilities. "Cech, one of the authors of the study," said Salon in an email. "This is true even among couples where women have full-time, demanding jobs."
However, the authors pointed out that parenthood was not just a "mother problem" because the men's rate of departure was also noticeable. In other words, parenting is an obstacle for all those working in STEM.
"The difficulties these professionals may encounter in striking a balance between their caregiving responsibilities and their full-time employment in STEMs suggest that this issue is of concern to the entire STEM workforce and not only the retention of women, "say the authors in the published study. in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Thus, the scientific and political literature that defines the responsibilities of the education of children as an exclusively female problem is a short-sighted vision."
The path of new mothers leaving full-time employment also varies. According to a study, based on the data analyzed, 11% of new mothers have moved to part-time work in STEM by 2010. At first glance, this may seem reasonable, but the authors explain that there are pitfalls for part-time work.
"Although part-time jobs keep new mothers in STEM in one way or another, they have several drawbacks: they generally pay much less per hour than full-time jobs, are less likely to be in a job." be accompanied by benefits such as health care and are less likely to move forward. opportunities, "say the authors.
Cech stated that this discovery was a problem not only for those working in STEM but also for the future of its work.
"These patterns suggest an impediment to the advancement of women that their male colleagues do not meet to the same degree," said Cech, adding that the departure of these women was a loss for scientific progress. "Their departure means a loss of knowledge and expertise of STEM that is unfavorable to innovation and scientific investigation."
Leslie Field, PhD, Founder, Chair of the Board of Directors and CTO of Ice911, a non-profit organization specializing in climate change, told Salon that she had left her engineering position full-time to create his own consulting firm, partly to give him more flexible hours as a parent. She agreed that when these areas do not give new mothers flexibility in their work, this is not only an obstacle for industry, but also for the future of field work.
"I think that on climate change, women bring a deeper understanding," she said. "I think we bring a different point of view that's really helpful, and when you create teams and collaborate, you want to have multiple views in the room."