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STEM and Equal Pay

April 8, 2014 - 3:46pm

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April 8 is Equal Pay Day, but equal pay for equal work is an issue every day of the year. In 2014, women’s paychecks lag behind their male counterparts at 77 cents on the dollar, a number that has not changed in the last three years. Women serve as nearly half of the U.S. labor force and outpace men in earning college degrees, but the wallet still outweighs the pocketbook. This economic imbalance is even greater for African American, Hispanic and Native American women.  As President Obama said in his Equal Pay for Equal Work remarks this morning, “it's nice to have a day, but it's even better to have equal pay.”

The good news is greater pay equity exists in STEM jobs. Women in these fields make 33 percent more than their female counterparts in other professions. These areas are also projected to grow at faster rates than other job sectors, and present incredible economic opportunities for women. Unfortunately, women are underrepresented in STEM and a gender pay gap still exists. However, the Department of Energy is working to erase that gap and increase female participation in those areas by supporting and promoting them in STEM.

Here at the Department of Energy we are focused on helping women succeed by engaging and supporting them in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

It was a high school trip to Savannah River National Laboratory national laboratory that convinced me I could be an engineer: a profession that I hadn’t really been exposed to before. And as the Department of Energy’s representative to the White House Council on Women and Girls, I speak to many young women who have never met an engineer, let alone a female engineer. Gender stereotypes and lack of mentors, exposure and female role models can all factor into the lack of women in STEM jobs. We worked with NASA to create our Women @ Energy series. This initiative profiles 150 female leaders in the Department who serve as STEM role models for women and girls.

Additionally, the Department collaborated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create the Clean Energy Education and Empowerment initiative or C3E to attract more women to clean energy careers and support their advancement into leadership positions. C3E has recognized several emerging and established female leaders through its awards program. C3E provides access to mentors and resources to help women drive innovation in the clean energy economy.  And our Minorities in Energy Initiative, modeled on C3E, seeks to fully engage minorities in STEM education, energy economic development and climate change. It has a slate of Ambassadors that include prominent female role models in the energy sector, women like former Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary and Senators Mary Landrieu and Lisa Murkowski.

The call for equal pay for equal work resonates with families as strongly today as it did 50 years ago when the Equal Pay Act was passed. When women succeed in science, technology, engineering and math, their families also succeed, laying the foundation for our country’s future prosperity and innovation. Looking to the future, the Department of Energy is committed to narrowing the pay gap and the gender gap in STEM and the energy sector.

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