Increasing the retention rate of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields could help stem the U.S.'s declining share in world patenting and scientific publishing, writes McGill University professor Jennifer Hunt.
A recent report, "The Athena Factor: Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering, and Technology," by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, identifies the major reasons why women leave STEM fields at a higher rate than men, from the lack of a buddy network to outright sexual harassment, and proposes ways to make STEM careers more friendly to women. The exit rate for women compared to men is higher in science and engineering than in other fields, according to the 1993 and 2003 National Surveys of College Graduates. The gap is concentrated more in engineering than in science, and in exits to other fields rather than to unemployment.
An analysis of the surveys shows the gap between the female and male exit rates from a field is related to the share of men who studied the field. For example, if engineering fields have the highest number of female exits, it is because they have the highest share of men. The share of men also explains the excess female exits for pay and promotion reasons.
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