Understanding the Gender Gap In STEM Fields Entrepreneurship

Margaret E. Blume-Kohout, October 2014

Overall Findings

The key findings of this report suggest an effective strategy for addressing the gender gap in STEM fields’ entrepreneurship should be multifaceted in its approach. Figure 5 shows gender distribution in two key STEM entrepreneurship areas. Across all STEM fields, female PhDs have lower rates of patenting and entrepreneurship than do male PhDs. This difference is most pronounced in physics, astronomy and the computer sciences, in which women earned only 1 in 5 PhDs conferred by U.S. institutions in 2012, and in which women are disproportionately trained and employed by less research-intensive departments.

Overall findings and therefore policy implications vary widely across individual STEM fields and include gender differences in graduate training environments, employment sector, typical work activi-ties, professional seniority, and the impact of patent-ing activity on subsequent entrepreneurship.

The results identify four broad areas that matter for women entrepreneurs in STEM.

The ratio of women to men in STEM PhD programs matters.

  • While gender parity exists in some STEM field PhD programs, significant enrollment gaps exist for some of the most entrepreneurial STEM fields, such as engineering.
  • The graduate degree gap is echoed in female faculty representation across entrepreneurial and patent generating fields. In some fields, junior faculty ratios reflect a potential trend toward narrowing the gender gap.
  • This study finds female to male ratios among student bodies and faculty matter for female enrollment choices in STEM programs.

Industry R&D funding and postdocs matter.

  • Industry funded R&D and postdoctorals increase the likelihood of STEM entrepreneurship for STEM PhD women, while volume of R&D matters for STEM PhD men.
  • Female STEM PhDs who attend programs at universities with relatively higher patenting volume and higher shares of R&D funded by industry or other non-federal sources are significantly more likely to participate in patenting and entrepreneurship.
  • Female STEM PhDs whose first postdoctoral employment was in (or funded by) industry are equally likely as men to participate in patenting and entrepreneurship.
  • In the highly entrepreneurial, women-underrepresented engineering fields, industry supports a significantly greater share of total R&D, 8.3 percent of all engineering research at U.S. universities which totals about $857 million. Female graduate students in chemical and mechanical engineering disproportionately enroll in programs with no industry-funded R&D.

Gender differences in job satisfaction matter.

  • In terms of job satisfaction, female STEM PhDs value availability of health insurance benefits significantly more than male STEM PhDs. As of 2010, entrepreneurial ventures were less likely to offer these benefits, but recent changes in access to health insurance coverage may change this landscape.
  • Having a spouse or partner who works full-time in non-STEM fields increases female STEM PhD’s propensity towards small business ownership, perhaps because that situation may provide an alternative source for health insurance.
  • Female STEM PhDs who start their own businesses or join entrepreneurial ventures are less likely than male STEM PhDs to do so for family-related reasons, but more often do so to improve their working conditions. Female STEM PhDs value the independence of self-employment more than their male counterparts.

Parenthood matters in the short run.

  • Arrival of young children at home significantly and substantially decreases women’s near-term patenting and entrepreneurship, with no similar effect for men.