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CBE Seminar Series – Sharon Sassler

Understanding Gender Disparities in Early STEM Careers: A Mixed Methods Analysis

Contemporary debates about STEM education and the STEM labor force center around claims that there is both a shortage of trained workers for the scientific and technical needs of employees, and that this shortage could be ameliorated with larger numbers of women and minorities trained in STEM disciplines where they are currently underrepresented. Despite numerous initiatives to increase the presence of women and minorities in STEM fields, their representation in the STEM workforce lags their educational gains.As of 2021, women accounted for only 35% of STEM workers, and minorities were even less well represented. The composition of the STEM labor force is shaped not only by who enters into STEM jobs following college graduate, but who remains working in STEM – and previous research found that women were significantly more likely to leave STEM occupations than were professional women, especially early in their career. To better understand the factors shaping the composition of the STEM labor force, in 2014 my colleagues and I began working on an NSF-funded study (Award # 1432522), “Early Career Transitions into STEM Employment: Processes Shaping Retention and Satisfaction,” a mixed-methods data collection conducted at two large universities. A survey of graduating students in Chemical Engineering and Chemistry was conducted in the spring of 2015 and 2016, and respondents were followed up in 2019 and 2020.We also conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with a sample of 100 recent graduates in Chemical Engineering and Chemistry, beginning approximately one year post-graduation and then yearly through 2020. Today’s talk reports the findings from several papers resulting from this data collection, supplemented with additional research utilizing SESTAT (Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System) data and the American Community Survey (ACS). Quantitative analysis of factors shaping entrance into STEM jobs and retention find few gender differences in the early career, though differences emerge upon examining job search processes and experiences in early career with the qualitative data. Internships are central in the early career stage. Women experience a harder time landing their initial job in STEM and are challenged by growing demands for long work hours in their early careers, relative to their male counterparts. Results from SESTAT and ACS data suggest that gender differences in attrition from STEM jobs may not occur until later in the career life course. Our quantitative and qualitative findings suggest a need to better understand the processes differentiating men’s and women’s experiences in the early career stages.

Sharon Sassler received her Ph.D. in Sociology from Brown University in 1995, and joined the Cornell faculty in 2005. A social demographer, Sassler’s research examines factors shaping the activities of young adults and their life course transitions into school and work, relationships, and parenthood, and how these transitions vary by gender, race/ethnicity, and social class. One stream of her research explores the tempo of and outcomes associated with relationship progression into cohabiting unions and/or marriage. She also examines outcomes associated with parenthood, among unmarried and married young adults. Her third area of study focuses on the retention and promotion of women and minorities in science and technology (STEM) careers, including how early career experiences and the gender composition of the field is associated with retention and the gender wage gap in STEM jobs. She is currently the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Brooks School of Public Policy at Cornell, and Director of Cornell’s Center for Social Sciences Qualitative and Interpretive Research Institute (QuIRI).

Start Date: October 2, 2023
Start Time: 9:05 am
Location: Olin Hall