Technology jobs are among the highest paying, fastest growing and most stable in the nation, yet women hold a disproportionately small number of them. That's according to two recent U.S. Department of Commerce reports on employment in science, technology, engineering and math.
According to the first report, "STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future," released in July 2011, workers in the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) occupations earn 26 percent more than workers in other fields. That may be especially welcome news for IT professionals, since almost half (46 percent) of STEM jobs are in computers and math.
And STEM workers of all educational levels earn more than their non-STEM peers. The differential was greatest for those with a high school diploma or less. They make nearly $25 per hour, matched up against $16 per hour for workers in other occupations.
As high-tech workers probably already know, demand for scientific and technical jobs is growing. Over the past decade, STEM jobs grew three times as fast as non-STEM jobs: 7.9 percent compared to 2.6 percent.
By 2010, one in 18 American workers had a STEM job -- still a relatively small proportion. But more growth is on the horizon, the report's authors say. Between 2008 and 2018, STEM jobs are expected to jump 17 percent, while their non-STEM counterparts are expected to rise just 9.8 percent.
STEM jobs are more stable, too. Compare these unemployment rates: for STEM workers, 1.8 percent in 2007, up to 5.5 percent in 2009 and dipping to 5.3 percent in 2010. For non-STEM workers, the rate was 4.8 in 2007, 9.5 percent in 2009 and nearly 10 percent in 2010.
This recent evidence backs up what industry watchers have long observed. A second Commerce Department report out in August, "Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation," reinforces another widely held perception of scientific and technical careers: that the fields are predominantly male.
The report found that women fill 24 percent of STEM jobs, despite holding 48 percent of all jobs in the U.S. economy. This low rate has remained more or less steady over the last decade, despite the fact that women's share of the overall workforce went up slightly.
The disparity isn't quite as great in the physical and life sciences, where women hold 40 percent of jobs. But they hold just 14 percent of engineering jobs and 27 percent of computer and math jobs.
For women who do hold STEM jobs, the report offers a silver lining: they earn 33 percent more than women in other occupations.
So why the disparity between men and women in these fields? The report doesn't offer any definitive answers, but it suggests that STEM jobs may be less accommodating to women who temporarily leave the workforce to have families. It also raises the possibility that gender stereotyping and the lack of female role models in math, science and technology are dissuading girls from entering these fields.This trend should be reversed, and women should enter STEM professions in greater numbers, the researchers argue. Science and technology workers not only reap personal benefits from their jobs, they also play a key role in contributing to America's economy and competitiveness.