Rankins Report Vol 1

The latest NSF report on “Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering” (WMPD) [1] shows that in 2019, 47.1% of employed scientists and engineers were women. The survey was of 28.7 million science and engineering (S&E) Bachelor’s, Master’s and doctorate degree holders. This reflects increasing trends in the share and number of S&E degrees awarded to women and minoritized groups—Hispanics or Latinos, Blacks or African Americans, and American Indians or Alaska Natives (AI/AN)— over the past decades.

At first glance, this data point – 47.1% of employed scientists and engineers are women – looks encouraging and suggests that women are represented almost at parity in the S&E workforce, considering women comprise 50.1% of the US population between the ages of 18 and 64. However, this single statistic masks persistent and troubling inequities impacting women – and particularly women of color – within STEM.

Let’s take a little deeper dive into the statistics. The WMPD report defines 3 categories of employment for STEM degree holders: S&E occupations (including S&E postsecondary teachers), S&E related occupations (including health related occupations, S&E managers, S&E precollege teachers, S&E technicians and technologists and other S&E related occupations), and non-S&E occupations.

When disaggregating by employment type, it becomes immediately apparent that women are underrepresented in S&E occupations, accounting for only 29.4% of that workforce. And when disaggregating further by race/ethnicity, it is also apparent that Black and Hispanic women are particularly underrepresented, and within S&E occupations, they are most severely underrepresented among the 10 highest earning college majors, all of which are in computer related, mathematics related, or engineering fields [2]. Women, are overrepresented in S&E related occupations at 57.4% and non-S&E occupations at 52.3%, however, these fields generally pay less, and are less-likely to take full advantage of the degree-holder’s training and talent. And even in those fields, Black, Hispanic, and American Indian or Native Alaska women are not represented at parity.

Table 1 puts the single data point, that 47.1% of employed scientists and engineers are women, in perspective. The tables below illustrate, by race/ethnicity, how women with S&E degrees are represented in the workforce overall, as well as in academia. To understand the complexities of the representation of women, the representation index (RI) is used. The RI is generally defined as a group’s percent in a category divided by the percent of representation of that group in the US population aged 18 to 64. An RI of greater than 1 means that women are overrepresented, an RI less than 1 indicates underrepresentation. Moreover, the RI shows the level of over/underrepresentation.

S&E OccupationsS&E related occupationsNon-S&E occupations
Black women0.270.60.79
Hispanic women0.270.610.63
AI/AN women0.140.440.47
Asian women1.972.131.47
White women0.61.331.18
Table 1: RI of selected racial/ethnic groups of women by job classification

Similar trends can be found in data on women in S&E fields in academia. Table 2 summarizes how women STEM degree holders fare at all academic ranks in S&E fields – professor, associate professor, assistant professor, other faculty such as lectures and instructors, and faculty where rank is not indicated or applicable.

ProfessorAssoc ProfAsst ProfOther FacultyRank N/A
Black women0.
Hispanic women0.
AI/AN women0.110.160.16DbD
Asian women0.781.411.721.683
White women0.50.690.760.90.59
Table 2: RI of selected racial/ethnic groups in academia by rank

Women scientists and engineers of all races and ethnicities and at all levels on degree completion, make less than men, on the average. Overall in 2019, women’s median annual salary was $70,000, whereas the median salary for men was $95,000. The only exception is the field of biological and life sciences, where the pay of men and women is about equal. This disparity in income perpetuates the wealth gap that exists for women, which is even more pronounced for women from minoritized groups. Studies have dived into the reasons for the wealth gap, as well as its consequences for the women and their families. [3] [4]

One question to be explored is what effect this gender gap has on science and engineering. Who is at the table to ask the right questions that need to be answered? Who is there to address the deeply entrenched conditions and attitudes that prevail in science and seemingly turn whole groups of people away from these fields? Or as Cantor et al ask: what is the probability of producing good science if you leave vast pools of talent and sources of innovation behind? [5]

The data in this report lead to a number of questions to be researched, such as: Why are women with STEM degrees, particularly women from minoritized groups, not employed in S&E occupations, but tend to work in either S&E related or non-S&E occupations? Why are women from minoritized groups severely underrepresented at all ranks in academia, but especially at the full professor level? Why are women underrepresented in the high paying S&E occupations and fields?

It seems that we need to figure out how to change the culture of S&E in industry, academia, the government, wherever this work is being done to be sure that a safe space exists for everyone, that diverse research questions can be asked and studied, new research methodologies are encouraged, and diverse ways of doing science are being included.

“Let’s imagine a science that is made better in ways we aren’t yet capable of imagining, because we don’t understand what is important and valuable to the people who we have been actively excluding from science.”

Dr. Falcon Rankins

[1} National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2021. “Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2021”. Special Report NSF 21-321. Alexandria, VA: National Science Foundation. Available at https:// ncses.nsf.gov/wmpd.
[2} Wasik, J. 2022. “What Are the Top-10 Highest Earning College Majors? Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnwasik/2022/05/02/what-are-the-top-10-highest-earning-college-majors/?sh=3779e55b10f7.
Rankins, C., Rankins, F., and Inniss, T. 2014. “Who is Minding the Gap?” Peer Review: Gender Equality in STEM, 16 (2): 6-8.
[3} Chang, M.L. 2010. Shortchanged – Why Women Have Less Wealth and What Can Be Done About It. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.
[4} VanHeuvelen, T. and Quadlin, N. 2021 “Gender Inequality in STEM Employment and Earnings at Career Entry: Evidence from Millennial Birth Cohorts” Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World Vol 7: 1-15.
[5] Cantor, N., Mack K., McDermott, P., and Taylor, O. 2014. “If Not Now, When? The Promise of STEM Intersectionality in the Twenty-First Century”. Peer Review: Gender Equality in STEM, 16 (2): 29-30.


  • All data in this report comes from report [1].
  • D indicates that the data is suppressed by NSF for confidentiality reasons

Claudia Rankins

Dr. Claudia Rankins is a senior research associate for PRISSEM Academic Services, LLC, where she conducts faculty development and research development consulting activities, specifically aimed towards faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) pursuing National Science Foundation (NSF) funding in STEM and STEM education fields. Dr. Rankins retired from...