In recent years, the movement to increase access to STEM education and positions for girls has received overwhelming support. From after school programs to special mentorships, young women have more opportunities than ever before to pursue STEM curiosities. Still, so much current support for girls in STEM comes as a result of the older women who came before them. These older women in STEM still need support, and it’s important to ask which programs and systems are available to them.
In order to understand how the world of STEM looks for women later in their careers, it’s necessary to understand their lives outside of STEM. Luckily, a new study from Grand Canyon University, which provided a deeper analysis of women in computing, provided some insights.
According to the study, 32% of women in STEM are between 50 and 75 years old. For these older women, however, aging does not equate to a higher value in their careers. According to the study, while women under 29 years of age exceeded their male counterparts in terms of pay, as they got older, the pay gap grew and grew in favor of men. For STEM workers aged 50-75, the salaries for men were nearly double that of women.
What contributes to this pay gap? According to a study from John Hopkins University, the page gap today results in part from persisting impacts from past educational inequalities and lack of representation of women in high-ranking roles, as well as general gender and race inequalities in and out of STEM work. What this means for older women in STEM is that although they were the ones whose efforts changed the demographic landscape of STEM education and careers, it will be the girls who follow them that will be able to rise to higher paid positions.
With this concerning understanding that older women in STEM have little optimism to earn their worth during their own careers, it’s important to look at the ways they have come together to focus on changing the future.
Some women have looked to make the most of their positions as role models for young girls pursuing STEM. Organizations like the Million Women Mentors have acted as mentors for girls in STEM across all sorts of fields in 40 states and eight countries.
Others have chosen to invest what money they have earned towards the next generation of women. Women in STEM contribute to all sorts of charitable organizations, from the Girl Scouts to the Intel Corporation, in order to equip girls in STEM with the education and training they need to begin their careers in STEM.
Finally, some women have decided to take their passion for females in STEM to Washington, DC. With help in lobbying from women in STEM, the United States Congress was recently able to pass a bill requiring NASA to actively encourage young girls to pursue STEM. Surely, support from one of the most highly regarded scientific employers in the country can change the STEM career field in favor of girls and women.
In these philanthropic, political, and professional efforts, some older women have risen up as leaders for women in STEM. Among the older women who look over the STEM field rising behind them is Aprille Ericsson-Jackson, a 57-year-old mechanical engineer who was the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Engineering at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and 64-year-old Susan Soloman, whose pioneering expedition to Antarctica revealed a previously-unknown hole in the ozone.
Despite the challenges of pursuing STEM as well as the lack of equal compensation for their efforts received by these older women in STEM, it is unquestionable that they have changed their fields. Bolstered by older women’s support and building on the past discoveries and contributions, girls in STEM will be able to work to further transform the field, including pursuing intersectional equality for all girls holding keyboards, rulers, and pipettes.