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Why Do Women Leave Careers in STEM?

As females, we faced tough challenges in deciding to enter a STEM discipline, confronted gender imbalance in our studies, and overcame bias in order to land a job in our chosen field. Even after we establish ourselves in our careers, we continue to encounter career-ending traps. After overcoming so much to come this far, why would we throw in the towel at higher rates than men in similar fields?  Even more perplexing is why we are leaving our field at higher rates than women in other fields? Today I’d like to explore some of the possible reasons and present some solutions.


One reason women leave their careers in a STEM field is because of bias. They may not feel that they get a fair shake when it comes to inclusion on teams or promotions. Also, women may not feel that they are being heard or that their male colleagues trust them. I know that when I first took a leadership role in my engineering career I often felt two things: either that the men on my team had a sense of mistrust in the information I gave to them or that they felt shorted somehow by being “stuck” with me on a team. Of course, the best way to remedy that is to stick with it and prove your know-how and value over time!


Another reason women leave their STEM jobs is due to inflexibility when it comes to work-life balance. When women choose to have children, they often feel guilty asking for maternity leave and as though their work cannot continue in their absence. As a result, some women sacrifice family for their work or decide to leave their work altogether to ease their conscience. Though it will be hard for you to imagine letting someone else take the reins on your ongoing projects at work, I am here to tell you that the work will get done with careful planning and attention on your part. I myself had a tough time leaving my work to take maternity leave so I know exactly the struggle you will find yourself grappling with. But I planned carefully, put all my ducks in a row, and very much enjoyed those weeks spent at home with my children when each of them was born.


Some employers are hesitant to offer flexible schedules to mothers so they can tend to their kids’ needs around school hours. Women have proven time and again that they can produce high-quality work remotely while juggling the responsibilities associated with motherhood. If STEM employers learned to let mothers do their work outside of a standard office schedule and do some work from home when needed, there would be less attrition and more job satisfaction among mothers in these fields.


These ideas only scratch the surface of the myriad of reasons why women choose to leave careers they worked so hard to attain. Have you considered leaving your job?  For what reason?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Karen Purcell

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