We at The Story Exchange have always been acutely aware of – and extremely frustrated by – the lack of representation for women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The dearth of women is especially noticeable when one looks at the community of people starting businesses in those industries. It isn’t a recent phenomenon, but when you look at the matter in detail, you can see just how pervasive the issue is, and how deeply planted its roots are in our society.

And look in detail we did, in the name of presenting an in-depth exploration of the subject, especially as it pertains to female entrepreneurs.

Credit: freedigitalphotos.net
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net

The idea for this undertaking grew from a small seed that was planted when we wrote about a study conducted by the National Association for Women Business Owners. The report on their findings highlighted a somewhat significant gap between female entrepreneurs who understood the importance of implementing technology as part of one’s overall business model, and those who actually utilized such tools to attract and retain clients.

Related: Report: Female Business Owners Express Optimism – and Some Concerns – Regarding 2014 Outlook

Their study is merely one of many whose findings highlight a recurring disconnect between women and these four fields – and it is a disconnect that can be seen in all stages of life.

Here are a few other studies and observations that we found on the matter:

  • Project Muse featured a study in which researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that “[f]emale [middle school] students have less confidence than men in computer science, take fewer chances that might push technology into new realms, and are more likely to blame themselves if they do not understand something.”
  • The journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study which showed that university faculty members exhibited noticeable biases toward men. This applied regardless of the gender of the participating faculty members. “These results suggest that interventions addressing faculty gender bias might advance the goal of increasing the participation of women in science,” an abstract version of the study, which was conducted at Yale University, concluded.
  • Another team of experts at the University of California, Davis found that a lack of female professors in STEM-focused courses hindered the likelihood of success for female students. “Our results suggest that while professor gender has little impact on male students, it has a powerful effect on female students’ performance in math and science classes, their likelihood of taking future math and science courses, and their likelihood of graduating with a STEM degree,” a summary of their study stated.
  • Million Women Mentors also released a report on the issue. In it, they stated that out of 100 female bachelor students, only 12 graduated with a degree in a STEM major and a mere 3 still worked in STEM careers 10 years after graduating.

In addition to a lack of female employees in STEM, entrepreneurs who are founding companies under that umbrella are also overwhelmingly male – though there is less discussion as to why. Still, some studies and statistics exist.

Tech entrepreneur and industry expert Vivek Wadhwa found through researching the matter that women start only 3 percent of tech companies, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. At a Women 2.0 conference held last year, he stated that the report on the study’s findings, which he composed alongside then-Kauffman Foundation vice president Lesa Mitchell, also indicated that 33 percent of the female tech entrepreneurs who were polled reported facing what he called “dismissive attitudes” from their colleagues, while 15 percent claimed to have their abilities questioned directly.

Credit: freedigitalphotos.net
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net

Meanwhile, Women in Technology International specifically addressed the funding issues female entrepreneurs face when seeking money from venture capitalists for their tech startups. When they spoke to the VCs, they were told that women frequently don’t ask for money, or tend to undersell themselves during pitches. But when founders themselves were asked about the matter, they noted several instances of gender bias on the part of some in the VC community.

“Several women CEOs said investors asked if they had children and how they planned on managing the family and the fledging start-up at the same time,” WITI learned. “While they weren’t insulted by the question, they felt the same question would not be asked of men, because it is assumed that their wives will manage the family affairs so the husband can devote all his energy to the start-up.”

WITI additionally cited a survey which “showed that 70 percent of women funded by venture capitalists were funded by firms with at least one woman partner” – which is problematic, as officials also found that, in “a Silicon Valley angel investor group with 139 angel investors … [o]nly 3 are women.”

The combined result of these phenomena is a landscape that is very much lacking in and largely unsupportive of women. Considering how growth-oriented and lucrative these fields are – and how much slimmer the wage gap is between men and women who work in them – it is especially important to support female students, professionals and entrepreneurs who are interested in forging long-term careers in STEM.

Through our 1,000 Stories project, we’ve had the opportunity to feature women business owners in STEM. And through our Young Women to Watch initiative, we’ve learned about a number of younger female entrepreneurs who have worked hard to establish themselves in the STEM world. Yet despite the strides that have been taken by women in STEM and the support efforts that have been made by us and many others, the problem remains.

Why does this continue to be, and what can we do to encourage more significant, lasting change?

We at The Story Exchange spoke with several people who work in these fields, each of whom offered us input from a variety of perspectives – entrepreneurs (new and experienced), scientists, advocates, organizers and funders. We asked them a variety of questions; some the same, some specific to their respective paths. And each one discussed how we can empower more women to not only become involved in these fields, but to start more businesses in them as well.

We will be sharing their thoughts with you all. And at the end of May, we will summarize what we have learned at that point. We hope you will read, think about and – most important of all – participate in this discussion with us.

For a List of All Project Posts: The Story Exchange on STEM Entrepreneurship