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Correct Leaky Pipelines or Broken Scaffolding

How to support women's leadership in STEM

Employment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields in the United States is not equitable. Women, particularly Black and Hispanic women, are underrepresented in many sub-sectors of STEM and face larger wage gaps than in other fields. They are also far likelier than men and women in other fields to report workplace discrimination, including feeling isolated, being treated as incompetent, and getting passed over for promotions.

These inequities are not new. STEM’s lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is often attributed in part to a “leaky pipeline”—the idea that despite interest and the ability to succeed in STEM careers, women tend not to pursue or remain in them. This metaphor, which has circulated for decades, draws attention to decision-making moments when women divert from STEM paths, such as when declaring an undergraduate major or starting a family.

But, while life decisions like these have ripple effects on women’s careers—and while we need to better support them and others historically excluded from STEM to enter and remain in the field—the lack of diversity in STEM isn’t just about individual choices. It’s also about systemic barriers and layers of biases.

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