Recruiting Gen Z Women into STEM Careers

By Leigha Compson

Comprising an estimated 26% of the population, Generation Z (Gen Z), which includes those born after 1995, is poised to propel into the workforce within the next year (Weckesser, 2017). While there are many unique attributes of Gen Z, the research to date is clear: Gen Zers highly value diversity and inclusion (Forbes Coaches Council, 2018). To remain competitive and attract Gen Z talent, employers will need to demonstrate a commitment to diversity.

Research reveals that diverse teams complete more accurate work. Hunt, Layton, & Prince (2015) write that organizations are 15% more likely to realize stronger financial results when ranked in the top quartile for gender diversity. Companies with more women were more likely to experience significant innovation (Rock & Grant, 2016). More women are needed in these fields to drive innovation and design products to benefit other females. In nearly 75% of households, women are the primary shoppers and they control 60% of the wealth in the United States according to Girlpower Marketing (n.d.).

Yet careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) that are especially in need of innovation represent some of the least gender diverse fields. Despite the fact that women now make up 48% of the workforce (Beede, Julian, Langdon, McKittrick, & Doms, 2011) and are enrolled in college at rates of 72% as reported in the White House Council on Women and Girls (WHCWG, 2011), less than 25% of STEM workers were female in 2015 (Noonan, 2017). Within engineering fields, only 14% of the workforce was comprised of women in 2015 and this number has changed little over the past decade (Noonan, 2017).

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (n.d.), women earn 20% less than men on average. Yet the gender wage gap is smaller in STEM fields as women earn an average of 35% more than those in non-STEM jobs. Career opportunities in STEM are projected to grow by 13% through 2022, which is two percentage points higher than all other occupations (Viliorio, 2014). STEM jobs were cited by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as offering workers median earnings twice as much as average occupations in 2013 (Vilorio, 2014). Why aren’t women flocking to these career opportunities?

Publications like Why So Few (Hill, Corbett, & St. Rose, 2010) outline reasons for gender disparity in STEM including possibilities of limited role models, reduced confidence in math, perceptions of poor work/life balance, and limited career awareness. Engineer and author Karen Purcell writes that “ensuring more opportunity for women in STEM careers is essential to helping our industries better serve and respond to the needs of humanity” (2012, para. 1).

According to the Pew Research Center (2013), the top career considerations for women include job enjoyment, job security/benefits, flexibility to support family, and meaningful work that benefits society. Women were much more likely to rate that a job that benefits society is “extremely important” when compared to men, and this gender difference was even more pronounced in the younger generations of females. IWITTS Executive Donna Milgrim says “research shows that women care about how STEM subject areas are applied to help people” (Research Media, 2013, “Analysis Exclusive,” p. 104).

Similarly, Gen Zers are underrepresented in STEM fields, but given their values, STEM careers may be the perfect fit, especially for females. Bencsik et al. (2016) identified key career factors for Gen Z as work-life balance, job security fueled by a fear of unemployment, and a strong desire to “influence the world.” Gen Zers are wary of student debt and 65% report that salary is their top career consideration (Vision Critical, n.d.). Further, Gen Z cite “making a difference in the world and having an impact through their career” as more important than the Millennial generation (Vision Critical, n.d., p. 43). Gen Zers are seeking careers that have deeper meanings and they place a strong value on companies with integrity (Maurer, 2016).

Encouraging more women and the upcoming Gen Zers to explore STEM careers is a significant undertaking given their underrepresentation. Implementing strategies such as those outlined below offer a powerful first step, especially when integrated with career assessments and collaboration between educational institutions and industry.

  • Connect STEM Career Opportunities with Career Values Typical for Women and Gen Zers. Become familiar with the earning potential, job growth outlook, and opportunities to align STEM career benefits with career values to attract talent.


  • Create a Network of Successful Role Models. Introduce role models who are in later phases of their career and fellow Gen Zers such as college students currently enrolled in STEM career programs to clients.


  • Cultivate Industry Partners Who Value Flexibility. Provide opportunities for clients to meet with industry partners who place a high value on a flexible working environments as this may significantly change the perception that STEM careers allow for limited work-life balance.


  • Showcase the Unlimited Potential that STEM Careers Allow to Make the World a Better Place. Discuss that STEM career opportunities are diverse and offer opportunities for helping others whether through designing prosthetic hands or making drinking water clean. Gather real-life stories that illustrate this potential and share them abundantly.

Society has much to gain from diversifying STEM across gender and generations, and individuals who are part of these populations stand to experience significant career benefits as well. Career professionals must employ inclusive guidance strategies to help gen Z females draw connections between career values and STEM career possibilities. The combination of women understanding the opportunities STEM careers can provide and Gen Zers’ strong value of diversity ultimately may serve as the catalyst for revolutionizing the STEM workforce.


Drawing Connection Between Top 5 Career Values of Generation Z and Females and STEM Careers:

Compson Stem Career Graphic



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Shashkevich, A. (2018). Some well-meaning statements can spread stereotypes, new Stanford study says. Retrieved from: https://news.stanford.edu/press-releases/2018/07/10/well-meaning-sta-unintentionally/

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White House Council on Women and Girls. (2011). Women in America: Indicators of social and economic wellbeing. Retrieved from: https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/2011/demo/womeninamerica.pdf

Leigha Compson, MA, LPC is currently employed as a University Career Programs Specialist at Ferris State University where she primarily focuses on programming to encourage generation Z females to pursue and persist in careers in which they are underrepresented such as engineering technology fields.  She has experience teaching as an adjunct instructor at two different post-secondary institutions and working with young adults as a mental health clinician.  Prior to her employment in educational settings, Leigha worked in the technology field as a lead systems analyst for a large business process outsourcing company in the Chicago area. She can be reached at leighacompson@ferris.edu


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