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Women and Work: Then, Now, and Predicting the Future for Women in the Workplace

Business Women in Science and Technology


"According to 2001 Current Population Survey (CPS) data, one out of ten employed engineers was a woman, while two of ten employed engineering technologists and technicians were women. Among engineering specialties, industrial, chemical, and metallurgical/materials engineers were the only occupations in which women were more highly represented than the overall percent of total women engineers.

Among natural scientists, women represented 51.6 percent of medical scientists and 44.4 percent of biological and life scientists, but accounted for a smaller portion of geologists and geodesists (24.0 percent), physicists and astronomers (7.7 percent).

"Employment of women has lagged in most of the high-tech occupations that show promise for future growth. Software and hardware providers have gained acceptance as mechanisms for preparing high-technology workers for employment opportunities in the field. The challenges for women are to find more pathways into high-tech occupations, and into opportunities in the new certification universe. They also need to enter high-tech occupations in greater numbers."

An increasing number of colleges are enrolling more women than men in their medical schools. "Women comprised just over 45 percent of applicants and new students at U.S. medical schools in 1999-2000. The proportion of women medical residents increased from 28 percent of all residents in 1989 to 38 percent in 1999 according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Women in US Academic Medicine Statistics 1999-2000."

Source: [link url=http://www.amwa%2Ddoc.org/careers/html/then%5Fnow.html]American Medical Women's Association

In the field of veterinary medicine, the progress of women is even further along. "Now most students at veterinary schools are women, and by 2005, women will become the majority in the profession, says the American Veterinary Medical Association. While the number of female veterinarians in the United States has more than doubled since 1991, to 24,356, the number of male veterinarians has fallen 15 percent, to 33,461.”

Source: New York Times: Yilu Zhao (June 9, 2002)


Here's the challenge. Traditionally, career fields that became the purview of women became marginalized in terms of pay, prospects, and status. It's not the purpose of this article to trace that history, but think about careers that were once male dominated that are now overwhelmingly populated by women: clercal positions, administrative jobs, nursing, teaching, social work, and retail positions. Will veterinary medicine and the medical field follow the same path?

The answer, unfortunately, is 'yes.' I do believe when women dominate a field, the field becomes less appealing and attractive as an occupation.

Additionally, while we are making progress, as a society, the statistics I have seen show the percentage of women moving into education for high technology and hard science careers declining in 2002. (See the Wired News article below, as an example.

What Employers Can Do:

This is a tough area in which to make recommendations for employers. So much of an individual's set of interests and values is formulated early in life via the home and peer environment and school experiences and successes. While I'd like to believe we are making progress, as a society, girls and boys are still raised, counseled, and treated very differently. (This article, Why Girls Don't Compute, from Wired News, highlights some of the challenges.) There are, however, efforts employers can make.

Offer women training and education opportunities that will prepare them for promotion to positions in technology and science.

Hire an equal number of women into employer-sponsored training and education programs that will prepare them for a career path in higher paying, technology-related positions.

Expose women to technology and work with computers. Many have just not had the opportunity and may have an unrealistic understanding of the skills and knowledge required to successfully operate a computer.

Work with your local elementary school, middle school, high school, community college, and college to ensure that programs and educational opportunities are in place that expose girls to technology, math, and science, in addition to the helping careers, early. Ensure that clubs, science project competitions, and all other opportunities, reach out equally to girls.

In this work environment, given the challenges employers face in creating flexible work environments and promoting women in careers with high pay and high status, is it any wonder that women are starting their own businesses in droves?

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