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How Women Can Achieve Gender Equality in STEM Through the Skilled Trades

There are many opportunities today for women to close the gender gap in skilled trade industries.

women in STEM.

Though women make up about half the total workforce in the United States, they account for less than 25% of workers in most skilled trades. Careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) provide some of the most promising opportunities in today's economy, yet even in these growing fields, gender representation remains imbalanced.

The gender gap in STEM and skilled trades

Though the number of women working in STEM and skilled trades has been increasing year over year, we're far from acheiving equal representation. In general, STEM fields are still largely male-dominated, but there is currently a wide availability of job openings that presents an opportunity to help close the gender gap.

STEM gender gap

In STEM related fields, women account for just over 30% of the total workforce. In engineering and computers, the gap is especially wide. Researchers propose several reasons for this, including early gender stereotypes of boys being natually better than girls at math and science. Even though on average boys and girls perform about the same in these school subjects, stereotypes persists and often discourage girls from pursuing STEM in higher education.

Poor representation itself also compounds the issue. If young women see less women than men working in STEM careers in real life or in media, they may subconsciously learn to think a career in STEM isn't a viable option for them. Likewise, boys who see a greater number of men working in these fields will be pushed toward STEM and skilled trades, while women are dissuaded.

Skilled trades gender gap

Pursuing skilled trade careers is one of the most effective ways for women to reach gender equality across industries. As of 2022, up to 90% of American skilled trade workers in fields like construction and manufacturing are men. But with many new and increasing opportunities in trade industries, women can take advantage and begin to reduce this disparity.

The past several years have seen an increasing shortage of skilled trade workers in the United States. This presents the perfect opportunity for both women and the companies struggling to find skilled workers to promote diversity.

Importance of women in skilled trades and STEM

In industries traditionally dominated by men, increasing representation helps erase any conceived stigma-meaning young women who see greater equality are more likely to pursue higher education and seek support. Representation helps nudge women towards rewarding careers they can excel in.

Companies will also benefit from the increased diversity of their workforce and a larger pool of skilled workers when women pursue STEM and skilled trade careers. They will create more jobs and educational opportunities for women as their workforce grows.

There are many personal advantages for women seeking careers in skilled trade as well.

Advantages of working in STEM and skilled trades for women

Here a just a few advantages for women working in STEM skilled trades over other career paths:

  • Lower Education Requirements: Many skilled trade school programs can be completed in 1-2 years, compared to 4 years for a bachelor's degree.

  • Skilled Trades Shortage: Skilled trades jobs have been in abundant supply the last few years, with an increasing need for workers to fill the openings.

  • Reduced Cost: Earning the certificate or associate's degree required for skilled trades cost less than bachelor's or master's degrees.

  • Faster Experience: Training for a skilled trade typically includes practical experience sooner than in a bachelor's program, helping women to quickly build skills, confidence, and a resume.

  • Job Security and Outlook: Growing and evergreen job fields make STEM skilled trades safe bets for finding steady work.

  • Salary and Pay: STEM skilled trades remain among some of the highest-paid careers relative to the education and experience required.

  • Advancement Opportunities: STEM skilled trades usually have a high ceiling, with many opportunities for promotion.

Obstacles women face in STEM and skilled trades

Unfortunately, since STEM skilled trades have been dominated by men for so long, industry culture may seem unwelcoming or discourage women from pursuing these lines of work. Progress continues to be made, but in many ways, the road remains long and full of obstacles.

Women in STEM may face problems like:

  • Sexist Stereotypes

  • Discrimination

  • Harassment

  • Under-representation

Since these issues are varied and complex, there is no easy solution to quickly fix them all on a mass level. However, individual companies can make efforts to foster a non-toxic work environment for women and help change the industry by leading by example.

Educational institutions can also do a better job of promoting trade programs to women who have been discouraged from seeking out STEM careers. In addition, parents, guardians, and youth mentors can help cultivate confidence when they see women display natural talent or interest in science and math.

Women entrepreneurs in skilled trades

As the number of women in STEM and skilled trade grows, it is important for women entrepreneurs to start their own businesses. Women business owners act as signal boosters, increasing visibility and encouraging more young women to pursue their own careers in skilled trades.

In addition to entrepreneurship training courses, there are plenty of resources available to help women run skilled trade businesses, like construction companies, efficiently and effectively. Modern technology makes managing important processes easier.

For example, women entrepreneurs in construction can make use of construction management software to track things like:

STEM and skilled trade options for women

If enough efforts are made to decrease the gender gap, a growing number of women will find success and fulfilling careers working in diverse STEM and skilled trade fields.

Construction trades

Covering numerous aspects of constructing and maintaining buildings, roads, and other infrastructure, careers in construction offer rewarding opportunities for women.

Popular construction trades include:

  • Carpenter: Construct buildings and related structures

  • Plumber: Install and service pipes and water fixtures like sinks, toilets, and bathtubs

  • Construction Equipment Operator: Control heavy equipment used in a variety of tasks on construction sites

  • Roofer: Install and repair roofing on buildings

  • Electrician: Analyze, plan, repair, and install electric infrastructure in buildings

Automotive trades

Automotive trades involve maintaining and repairing cars and other motor vehicles. Trade schools provide hands-on training that makes for valuable experience.

Popular automotive trade options include:

  • Auto Body Technician: Perform bodywork on automobiles

  • Automotive Technician: Troubleshoot, repair and mechanically maintain cars and other automobiles

  • Diesel Technician: Troubleshoot, maintain and repair diesel engines

  • Truck Technician: Diagnose issues, maintain and repair trucks

  • Heavy Equipment Technician: Perform maintenance on large equipment such as excavators

Manufacturing trades

In factories, shops, and other industrial facilities, manufacturing trades require several diverse skill sets. Whether the job includes operating equipment or assembling components, manufacturing trades teach women good technical and mechanical skills.

Popular manufacturing trades include:

  • Machine Operator: Control equipment used to perform tasks in manufacturing facilities

  • Assembler: Use tools and equipment to put together components as part of the assembly of a final product

  • Quality Engineer: Ensure the quality of manufactured goods, including creating and performing test procedures

  • Tool and Die Maker: Use equipment to design and create tools and other metal instruments used in manufacturing

  • Metal Fabricator: Use tools to build metal structures and machines

  • Mobile Crane Operator: Control a crane to unload vehicles, and lift and move heavy objects

  • Mechatronics: Combining electronics, robotics, and mechanics, jobs cover many fields that require robotics and automation

Service trades

Service encompasses jobs in nursing and other specialized tasks. Popular service trades include:

  • Horticulturist: Perform landscaping, cultivate gardens, inspect growing sites, and complete other critical tasks that relate to plant science

  • Appliance Service Technician: Inspect, troubleshoot, maintain, and repair appliances like microwaves, stoves, furnaces, and more

  • Radiation Therapist: Use radiation equipment to help cancer patients and patients with other diseases

  • Computer Hardware Technician: Maintain, install and provide support for a company's computer systems and network infrastructure

Education, training, and apprenticeships

Many federal and non-profit initiatives have been created to support women and diverse students in education programs.

Federal funding initiatives like Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations provide grants for women seeking apprenticeship programs. Many states also have their own funds meant to help women access education and training in skilled trade STEM careers.

Many women can begin trade programs in high school, making it easy for them to hit the ground running once they graduate. In addition, trade programs usually incorporate practical application of learned skills, so students will graduate with real work experience.

Fostering an environment of inclusion in the STEM skilled trades

As STEM skilled trade workplaces grow more diverse, companies need to encourage inclusive working environments. There are many things to keep in mind while evaluating your company's culture and working to foster a more inclusive workplace.

Good communication and people skills are essential for managers. When they can openly and respectfully communicate with all employees while establishing clear work expectations, this will boost workers' confidence and improve morale.

In addition, making a wide range of personal protective equipment (PPE) sizes available to workers helps workrs with diverse body types and shapes feel comfortable. Using diverse imagery and inclusive language in company training materials can also help foster an inclusive environment in the skilled trades.

Changing company attitude and culture is a step in the direction of offering a better work environment for all employees, which offers numerous advantages to the business itself.

Benefits to your business

The benefits of creating an inclusive environment for your business are numerous. In addition to promoting employee retention, inclusive companies also enjoy benefits like:

  • Increased productivity and innovation: When employees feel comfortable at work, they will likely be more productive. A diverse workforce means more perspectives and innovative solutions to problems.

  • Ability to connect with a bigger customer base: Employees who work for diverse, inclusive companies are better equipped to deal with diverse customers.

  • Reduced employee turnover: Employees who feel comfortable, safe, and appreciated at work are more likely to stay with a company long term.

  • Improved company reputation: An inclusive work environment helps attract a larger pool of potential candidates for job openings.

  • Increase in younger workers: Younger workers and those just starting careers in skilled trades will appreciate a more forward-minded workplace.

Some aspects of company culture can't be changed overnight, but with so many clear benefits, fostering inclusivity is well worth the effort .

Changing company culture

Some companies in STEM and skilled trade industries still have old-fashioned roots and need to make significant changes to become more inclusive. It is important to continue to strive for a healthy company culture that makes employees feel secure, appreciated, and comfortable going to work.

Changing company culture to be more inclusive is about providing a safer environment, and when done properly, this benefits all employees at every level.

Steps for change include actions like:

  • Instituting and enforcing zero-tolerance policies for sexual harassment and discrimination. This should include better reporting processes and documentation organization.

  • Diversity training and workshops also foster an inclusive environment, especially if they are mandatory, regular commitments for management to undertake. This can curb toxic traits and increase awareness from the top down, and diversity courses can be easily incorporated into a regular program of safety training.

  • Offer resources and support for employees, whether they are struggling with mental health issues, problems with physical violence, or even thoughts of self-harm. These resources are beneficial to workers and companies, helping them avoid crises and better deal with stressful situations.

Although changing your company culture is easier said than done, doing so will help ensure a long and successful future for your company.

Resources for women in STEM

  • Association for Women in Science: This page provides webinars, scholarship and grant information, and advocacy support for women in scientific fields.

  • EngineerGirl: This website highlights engineering opportunities for girls and women, and provides contests and other programs to inspire interest in STEM careers.

  • STEM Like a Girl: This organization provides workshops, at-home activities, and more for students looking to pursue STEM education.

Resources for skilled trades companies and entrepreneurs

  • Lightship Bootcamp: As an entrepreneur-focused program, Lightspeed Bootcamp offers classes and mentorship for those looking to start their own business or companies in the early stages of growth.

  • SBA Learning Program: The US Small Business Association provides online learning programs covering everything from entrepreneurial best practices to funding opportunities.

  • Aspen Institute Business Value Assessment Toolkit: This handbook gives small business owners methods and criteria for analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of their business plan.

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