WEST Wisdom Blog

Women's Past Progress Continues To Encourage Future Progress

Posted by Courtney Cyron on Mar 30, 2023 2:35:48 PM

In 1920, women earned the right to vote. In 1963,
congress passed the Equal Pay Act of 1963,Untitled design (10) protecting women from being paid a lower rate than men for substantially similar work. As part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it became illegal to discriminate in employment based on race, sex, color, religion, and national origin. It’s now 2023 and women have been making progress towards equality in the workplace for over 100 years now. While there’s still room for major improvements, women have come a long way in the workplace. 

My own grandmother was born in 1935. At this point, women had the right to vote for just 15 years and had started to make great strides in having careers, and then were dramatically set back by The Great Depression. It took many years and a change in president for women to finally start seeing progress again. As the years passed, the US saw a second wave of feminism spike in the 1960s. Women were continuing to fight for their rights and opportunities to be valued in the workplace. 

My grandmother put herself through college and used her education to work as a secretary in the airline industry. This was one industry that had certain positions that were very accepting of women in the workplace. STEM careers were often a little less accepting. In 1970 women made-up 38% of the workforce, but only 8% of STEM employees. It took pioneering women like Katherine Johnson, Sally Ride, Jane Goodall, and Kati Kariko making major contributions before progress could even begin towards women filling more STEM roles.

Women have been pioneers in STEM fields for decades, but only recently has the STEM industry put numbers and studies into why women make up such a small percentage of the STEM workforce, and what can be done to make the STEM industries a more equal opportunity environment. In 1994 the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System started tracking students entering college studies and what majors they were declaring. Their first statistics were a little disheartening. In 1994 women only represented 34% of STEM students. As more and more efforts have been made to encourage and support women interested in pursuing STEM educations, there has been approximately a 6% rise in women’s enrollment in STEM studies per year. 

These women have gone on to pursue careers in STEM fields. In 2020 the number of women in STEM board positions rose by 18%. According to Pew Research, women made up 74% of healthcare employees in 2019, up from 72% in 1990. The same report shows an 18% increase in female employees in physical science positions and a 14% increase in life science positions. In the federal government, the number of women employed in both mathematics and technology positions exceeds the equal opportunity expectation. (table 4) Women also earn a slightly larger base salary, on average, than men in federal government technology positions. (Table 8) 

If you take the time to see what contributions women have made in STEM industries over the past 200 years, you’ll find that our world would be an entirely different place without them. Katherine Johnson, Jane Goodall, Kati Kariko, just to name a few have devoted their lives to progress through their research. These women have, in fact, made our world a stronger, better place. 

It’s taken a lot of work, from men and women around the world to achieve this amount of progress. When my grandmother was born, it would have seemed insane to suggest that we would soon be living in a world where women run large corporations, participate in world-changing scientific research projects, and have an equal opportunity for any and every job imaginable. My grandmother left the airline, founded her own small business, and sold that business to support her retirement when the time came. These are things that women of the 1930s could only dream of, and all that progress was seen just in one lifetime. 

There’s absolutely still so much more progress to be made. There is room for women at the top of organizations around the world that still don’t have any female representation. There is still a pay gap between men’s wages and women’s in a lot of jobs, and there absolutely shouldn’t be. There are still social pressures that convince women that they don’t belong in STEM positions, and those pressures shouldn’t exist. Even with all the things that we still need to correct, we should take a moment to appreciate the progress that has been made already. If we can make this much progress in just one lifetime, imagine how much stronger and more equal our world can be with strong female leadership in the next 50 years. This is exactly what Women’s History Month is here to both celebrate and encourage. So ladies, here’s to you and the strong women that you are, supporting everything it takes to continue to make our world a stronger place.


BigRentz. "Women in STEM Statistics to Inspire Future Leaders." February 21, 2021. BigRentz. https://www.bigrentz.com/blog/women-in-stem-statistics

Kantrowitz, Mark. "Women Achieve Gains in STEM Fields." April 7, 2022. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/markkantrowitz/2022/04/07/women-achieve-gains-in-stem-fields/?sh=2f5265ee5ac5

Office of Federal Operations. "Special Topics Annual Report: Women in STEM." FY2019. US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. https://www.eeoc.gov/special-topics-annual-report-women-stem#_Toc97287809

"Important Women in STEM History." University of North Dakota. https://onlinedegrees.und.edu/blog/https-onlinedegrees-und-edu-blog-women-in-stem-history/

Fry, Richard, Funk, Cary, & Kennedy, Brian. "STEM Jobs See Uneven Progress in Increasing Gender, Racial and Ethnic Diversity." April 1, 2021. Pew Research. https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2021/04/01/stem-jobs-see-uneven-progress-in-increasing-gender-racial-and-ethnic-diversity/


Topics: Gender Balance, STEM, STEM, Gender Balance, Women, Career, Women in STEM, Annual Theme, Equal Pay, Change, Making a Difference, Gender Pay Gap, Challenges, Career Development, Organizational Culture, D&I, Gender Parity, Equity, Organizational Change, STEM Women, STEM Leadership, Female Representation STEM, Hiring Women in STEM, International Women's Day, Women's History Month, Strong Women, Strong World

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