NEWS | Feb. 11, 2022

The Power of Women in the STEM Workforce

U.S. Cyber Command Public Affairs

A significant gender gap has persisted throughout the years at all levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines all over the world. Even though women have made tremendous progress towards increasing their participation in higher education, they are still under-represented in these fields.

In response to this, the United Nations declared 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science in 2015. The goal of this day was to push for full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls.

Air Force Master Sgt. Briana Mullane, a Senior Cyber Operator, described some of the challenges and rewards for women working in the STEM field with U.S Cyber Command.

“The biggest challenge working in a STEM field is the self-assessment of our own capabilities,” said Mullane. “We tend to value our capabilities in a lot of STEM fields lower than male counterparts and hour hold ourselves to a higher standard just to feel like we fit in with the men.”

There is ample research showing some of the challenges facing women in these fields including:

  • Research has shown that women are typically given smaller research grants than their male colleagues and, while they represent 33.3% of all researchers, only 12% of members of national science academies are women. In cutting edge technology fields, women only comprise 22% of the professional positions.  
  • Female researchers tend to have shorter, less well-paid careers. Their work is underrepresented in high-profile journals and they are often passed over for promotion.
  • Although women represent half of the world’s population and, therefore, half of its potential, women still only account for 28% of engineering graduates and 40% of graduates in computer science and informatics.

“Women are working against negative expectations, a multigenerational negative stereotype that persists, reinforced by either conscious or unconsciously expressed human bias,” said Mullane.

Mullane’s path to her current career began when she was working as a linguist with the Air Force and given the opportunity to become a section tech director. After researching how networks worked and those technologies were developed, she changed her college major from international relations to information systems security.

“I love the fact that there are so many hard problems in cyber to solve and there are different solutions to the same problem,” she said.

As nations and institutions push for equality in STEM fields, it’s also important for parents to encourage their daughters to approach problem solving and technology. Parental support and positive role models like Margaret Hamilton and Grace Hopper can be the defining influence pushing girls and young women towards STEM fields.

“I would encourage anyone who thinks they may have a passion to just go for it,” said Mullane. “Don’t let any hang-ups detract you from achieving what you set out to do. I would encourage girls to think about what kind of problems they want to solve and to not be afraid to forge their own paths ahead.”