Lots of moms and dads leave STEM careers

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Nearly half of new moms and a quarter of new dads who work in STEM leave their full-time jobs after a baby’s arrival, according to a new study.

The findings show that 43 percent of new moms and 23 percent of new dads leave within four to seven years of the birth or adoption of their first child.

Women have been underrepresented in these male-dominated fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) for decades, especially as they move further up the career ladder, researchers say. Parenthood may contribute to the gender gap, in part, due to gender-related cultural expectations and workplace obstacles.

“Not only is parenthood an important driver of gender imbalance in STEM employment, both mothers and fathers appear to encounter difficulties reconciling care-giving with STEM careers,” says Erin Cech, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan and lead author of the paper, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For the study, Cech and Mary Blair-Loy, professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego, analyzed nationally representative longitudinal survey data from US STEM professionals collected between 2003 and 2010.

Some new mothers—about 1 in 10—continue working in STEM on a part-time basis, but that situation has its own set of setbacks: businesses and universities typically pay part-time work substantially less per hour than full-time work; and part-time work is less likely to include benefits like health care. Part-time work is also less likely to include advancement opportunities.

“Our results indicate the need for employers to establish highly valued and well-paid part-time options as well as ramp-up policies that allow part-time STEM professionals to transition back into full-time work without long-term career penalties,” Blair-Loy says.

If parents leave the workforce, they are unlikely to return by the time their children are old enough to attend school, the researchers say.

“These findings point to the importance of cultural shifts within STEM to value the contributions of STEM professionals with children and the need for creative organizational solutions to help these skilled STEM professionals navigate new caregiving responsibilities alongside their STEM work,” Cech says.

“We need a cultural revolution within many fields to recognize and reward the full value of professionals who also care for children,” Blair-Loy says.

Source: University of Michigan