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Federal Report Highlights Gender Gap in STEM Fields

Women are "vastly underrepresented" in STEM jobs and among STEM degree-holders in the United States, finds a report issued today by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Only one in seven engineers is female, for example, it says. And on the employment front, women have seen no growth in STEM jobs since 2000.

The report's conclusions are probably not surprising to many readers, as we've long known about the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Women made up 24 percent of the U.S. STEM workforce in 2009, the report says, a figure that is unchanged from 2000. (Women represented 48 percent of the U.S. workforce, up from 47 percent in 2000.)

About 25 percent of STEM degree-holders were women in 2009. The report supplies no such data for 2000. It notes that women with STEM degrees are heavily concentrated in the physical and life sciences, but not engineering.

The report suggests that its findings point to an "untapped opportunity" for women to help meet the nation's STEM needs, and suggests that a strong STEM workforce is "crucial to America's innovative capacity and global competitiveness."

Although the report does not probe the reasons for the gender gap in STEM, it offers a few hypotheses.

"There are many possible factors contributing to the discrepancy of women and men in STEM jobs, including: a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields," the report says. "Regardless of the causes, the findings of this report provide evidence of a need to encourage and support women in STEM."

The report, "Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation," is one in a series coming from the Commerce Department's Economics and Statistics Administration. Last month, the department issued a report, "STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future." That report found that over the past decade, growth in STEM jobs was three times as fast as growth in non-STEM jobs.

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