NIOSH“When I grow up, I want to be an industrial hygienist.” Hearing a ten-year-old girl say those words would probably warrant a double take. While there might be some little girls out there dreaming about one day conducting research and working in a laboratory, studies suggest that more often, it’s a ten-year-old boy who will have the dream and will realize it when he grows up. The reality is that a disproportionately smaller number of women than men follow careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Scientific organizations agree that a better balance is needed. Perhaps, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, more girls will one day enthusiastically say, “epidemiologist, health communication specialist, medical officer, engineer, psychologist!”

In order to remain competitive and innovative in science and technology, we must close the gender gap and harness the full potential of the female STEM workforce in the United States. Women are widely underrepresented both in STEM jobs and STEM undergraduate degrees. Although women make up close to half of the U.S. workforce, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs.[i] There appears to be a disconnection between women with STEM degrees and STEM jobs. About 40 percent (2.7 million) of men with STEM college degrees work in STEM jobs, while only 26 percent (0.6 million) of women with STEM degrees work in STEM jobs.1

The numbers make it clear that we need to encourage and support women in STEM.

Several factors may contribute to the disproportionate number of women in STEM majors and jobs, such as gender stereotyping, less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields, and a lack of female role models.

There is certainly no shortage of female role models at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the federal agency that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. NIOSH employs over 500 female workers –nearly 40% of the workforce- in a wide range of jobs including epidemiologists, physicians, and engineers.

Some of these talented women are featured in the new NIOSH Women in Science video series. They discuss their journeys to science, challenges and experiences along the way, work duties, and how they balance work with family. Also, they offer advice to aspiring scientists, encouraging girls and young women to pursue careers in STEM.

Enjoy these fun facts about the different STEM disciplines featured in the NIOSH Women in Science video series.


  • Like detectives, epidemiologists investigate the causes of injury or illness to prevent them from happening again.[ii] In the movie Contagion, the character played by Kate Winslet was an epidemiologist trying to understand the cause and progression of the outbreak.
  • Epidemiologists study a variety of...Click here to read the rest of this blog post.