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Updated 10:00 AM October 31, 2007
 

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Women are critical to developing high-tech knowledge economy

As manufacturing industries decline and jobs disappear, knowledge-driven, entrepreneurial sectors of the economy become increasingly important to Michigan and the nation.

"Women represent the greatest potential for increasing the state and country's scientifically and technologically trained workforce," says Susan Kaufmann, associate director for advocacy at the Center for the Education of Women. "Women's participation in science and technical fields is important for more than attracting and generating jobs. It also has a direct impact on innovation."

Kaufmann authored a new report, "Michigan Women and the High-Tech Knowledge Economy," which explores how women are doing in the high-demand, high-wage, high-tech sector. It examines five areas:

• Long-term changes in the Michigan economy

• Women's attainment of college degrees in science and technical fields in both the U.S. and Michigan

• Women's work participation in those fields in the country and the state

• Barriers that lower women's participation

• Innovative strategies for recruiting and retaining women in science and technology

Kaufmann will discuss these issues at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30, at CEW, 330 E. Liberty. Amy Cell, director of talent enhancement at SPARK, which is an economic development and marketing organization for the greater Ann Arbor region, and CEW Director Carol Hollenshead will join Kaufmann in the panel discussion. This event is open to the public and co-sponsored with SPARK, the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, the Women's Studies Program, and Women in Science and Engineering.

Although women's participation rates at college in physical sciences, computer technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are generally low, the gender gap receives little attention by state leaders, thus becoming a barrier to producing the trained professionals who are critical to the state's economic success, Kaufmann says. Impending baby boomer retirements, with the potential loss of half of all scientists and engineers, make tackling this problem even more urgent, she says.

Business leaders value access to an educated workforce in deciding where to locate their businesses. The type of education delivered by Michigan's institutions determines the state's economic destiny, Kaufmann says.

Two years ago in Michigan, women earned 40 percent of bachelor's degrees in physical sciences, 22.5 percent in engineering, and 14.5 percent in computer and information sciences — far behind the national rate of 21 percent in that field, Kaufmann says. In 2005 only two women in Michigan earned doctorate degrees in computer and information sciences.

For women who work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, pay is higher and more equitable than for most other working women, Kaufmann says. In Michigan, women working full time, year-round earn 70 cents for every dollar earned by comparably employed men, causing the state to be ranked 47th in the country for wage equality. Michigan women working full time in computer and mathematical sciences, however, earn 83 percent of men's wages, and women working in architecture and engineering earn 82 percent — well above the norm but still 11 percent below the national wage levels in those fields.

One challenge is breaking down barriers that girls and women experience in the STEM fields, including low self-confidence, stereotyping, inadequate teaching methods and discrimination.

"Ability is not the problem," she notes. "There is no difference in performance or grade point average between men and women."

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