Although many countries are actively promoting inclusivity and diversity in the workplace, data shows that around the world, women only account for 24% of the STEM workforce.
What’s more, the gender wage gap between men and women in STEM professions stands at a staggering $15,000. So with that in mind, we wanted to find out which countries around the world are the best at championing women in STEM.
We’ve looked at all 38 OECD member countries, revealing the percentage of women in STEM roles, female STEM graduates, and the number of STEM job vacancies in each country, indicating where the most opportunities exist.
To get a better understanding of the female workforce in these countries, we also uncovered the gender wage gap and the average salary for women. We then formed a ranking of the top 15 countries for women to start a career in STEM.
The Top 15 Countries Championing Women in STEM
The countries with the highest percentage of women in STEM roles are Lithuania (49%) and Iceland (45%).
Both countries, particularly Iceland, have made strong commitments to ensuring gender equality in the workplace, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed in the STEM fields.
The 2000 Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men is a cornerstone of the country’s gender equality efforts.
Continuous amendments have been made since, including the gender quota legislation requiring companies with over 50 employees to have 40% of women and men represented on their boards.
The research also reveals Poland has the highest percentage of female STEM graduates (43%), followed by the UK (38%).
Both countries have made efforts to promote gender equality in education, particularly in the STEM fields. British organizations like the WISE Campaign, strive to inspire and support women in their pursuit of STEM education, while Poland’s Perspektywy Education Foundation organizes campaigns that introduce STEM studies to girls in high school.
The two countries also have great female role models who have made substantial contributions to the fields of science, including physicist and chemist Marie Curie (Polish/French) and computer programmer Ada Lovelace (British).
|Rank||Country||Total Number Of Female Workers Per Country||Percentage Of people In STEM Roles Being Women||Percentage Of Female STEM Graduates per Country||The Gender Wage Gap per Country||Average Female Wage Per Country||Number Of STEM Roles Available Per 1,000 Female Workers|
Iceland is declared the best country for championing women in STEM, offering the highest average female salary across all job roles ($79,473). The European country almost sees equal gender representation in the STEM fields, with 45% of female workers in STEM roles. Furthermore, Iceland’s strong focus on equality and support of women across all industries has led to a low gender wage gap (10%).
Iceland has education initiatives in place that encourage young women to pursue an education in STEM, which contributes to the relatively high percentage of female STEM graduates (35%). The Hjalli teaching method, for example, frees young children from gender stereotypes and ensures equal opportunities in the classroom.
Despite this, Iceland does have one of the lowest number of STEM roles available per 1,000 female workers (1). This is most likely due to having a low population and an economy that focuses on other industries, including fishing and tourism.
2) The Netherlands
The Netherlands is the second-best country for championing women in STEM, with the highest number of STEM roles available per 1,000 female workers (13). Many Dutch companies strive to make the STEM fields more inclusive. Wolters Kluwer has been recognised as the top company for gender equality in 2023, with the CEO signing the UN’s Women’s Empowerment Principles.
Despite the Netherlands’ high average female wage, ($63,225), only 29% of the country’s female workforce are in STEM roles. This could be partially due to societal expectations that caregiving responsibilities should go to women. Kathryn Saducas, Swap Studio co-founder, reveals that the Netherlands still sees more women stay at home with the children.
Unfortunately, these expectations are also shared by countries around the world. A 2017 OECD study found that while most people across the world agree that women should be able to work outside the home, over a quarter of men and women prefer families with stay-at-home women.
With that being said, the Netherlands is a country that strives to promote gender diversity in STEM roles, particularly through gender-neutral policies, awareness campaigns  and research on gender disparities.
3) The United States
The U.S. follows behind with one of the highest average female salaries ($77,463.00) after Luxembourg ($78,310.00). While the U.S. has a higher average female wage than most countries in the world, this may be due to having the highest GDP per capita ($80,030). The gender wage gap in the U.S. (17%) is still something that women in the country have to contend with and requires further improvement across many industries.
The research also reveals that 34% of STEM graduates are women and 34% are in STEM roles. The U.S. has federal and state-level policies that promote gender equality in education.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, for example, prevents education programs from excluding people based on their gender. Moreover, many companies are now recognising the financial value of a diverse workforce and are therefore becoming more inclusive.
The U.S. is also home to many notable women in STEM, including theoretical physicist, Shirley Ann Jackson, and cytogeneticist, Barbara McClintock. Dr. Jackson was the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate from MIT, while Dr. McClintock was the first woman to be awarded an unshared Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
The Top 15 Countries For Women Starting A Career In STEM
The U.S. offers the highest number of job opportunities in STEM, boasting a total of 1,065,554. This is over four times higher than the next highest number of vacancies, seen in France which has a total of 262,934 STEM jobs. France has a strong commitment to research and innovation, which could be why the country has the second-highest demand for STEM workers, particularly in the major tech hubs of Toulouse, Paris and Lyon.
While the UK has a high percentage of STEM graduates (38%), the available opportunities are much lower than in other countries, with only five STEM roles per 1,000 female workers. This isn’t the only challenge for women in the UK, as the country also has the highest gender wage gap (14%) after the U.S. (17%).
This shows the challenges that women face in getting into high-wageing roles, including those in STEM fields. The UK may have a high percentage of female STEM graduates (38%) but only has five STEM roles available per 1,000 female workers. Similarly to the U.S., gender equality in STEM and the wider workforce is still something that needs to be improved.
The research further reveals that engineering is the STEM field with the highest number of job vacancies, providing a total of 2,124,033 opportunities. There is a huge demand for workers due to the rapid technological advancements seen across the world.
Engineers are needed to help organizations keep up with the continuous evolution of technology. Cloud computing engineers, for example, help businesses save on cloud computing costs and allocate that money to further technological advancements.
Global management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, estimates that if the share of women in the tech workforce increased to 45%, Europe would be able to close the skills gap and increase its GDP. This confirms that now, more than ever, the world needs more women in STEM fields.
|Rank||Country||The Gender Wage Gap Per Country||Average Female Wage In Each Country||Number Of Science And Mathematics Job Roles||Number Of Computer Science And Engineering Job Roles||Number Of Engineering Job Roles||Number Of STEM Roles Available Per 1,000 Female Workers|
1) The Netherlands
The Netherlands ranks in the top three once again and declared the best for women to start a STEM career. The European country offers the highest number of STEM roles per 1,000 female workers (13), mostly due to having one of the highest numbers of available engineering roles (121,167).
The Netherlands offers engineers a wide variety of opportunities, particularly in sustainability and infrastructure development. If more women were to fill these roles, the country’s 14% gender wage gap would see a significant reduction.
Luxembourg follows behind as one of the best places for women to start a STEM career, boasting the second-highest average female wage of $78,310. This could be explained by Luxembourg’s high cost of living and the country’s organizations providing the salaries to match.
On top of that, the country excels in the financial and technology sectors – fields in which women receive higher salaries than they would in other industries.
Luxembourg also has an above-average number of STEM roles available per 1,000 female workers (7). As a member of the EU, it even offers women in STEM the chance to work on international research projects, making it a country with promising opportunities for women starting a career in STEM.
Belgium is the third-best country for women to kickstart a STEM career, boasting the lowest gender wage gap in the world (1%) and offering 25,119 engineering jobs.
Belgium has strict employment policies that not only protect workers from unemployment and illness but also enforce equal wage in the workplace. The wage transparency that comes with these policies ensures that women aren’t paid less than their male counterparts for working the same job. This has seemingly led the country to offer a high average female salary of $64,848.
Barriers For Transgender And Non-Conforming People In STEM
Women aren’t the only ones facing barriers in STEM, with people from marginalized genders facing continuous challenges in the industry. Pride in STEM reported that half of transgender and non-confirming people experience harassment in their department at work. Organizations such as Pride in STEM bring together LGBTQ+ people who work or have an interest in STEM to raise awareness about the barriers that they face.
It’s important to encourage inclusive work environments as the diversity will foster innovation, leading to breakthroughs in STEM. This not only benefits people from marginalized genders, but also everyone that will enjoy the scientific advancements.
Tips For Transitioning To A STEM Career
Madeline Umscheid at CloudZero shares some practical tips for women looking to start a career in STEM:
1) Get practical experience
“If you don’t have a degree in STEM, you don’t necessarily need to go and get a more formal education to get into the industry. A lot of the time there are ways you can get hands-on practical experience without having to spend a lot of money and time, and this is often just as important as formal education. I learned some interesting theoretical stuff in my computer science classes at school, but it’s not as relevant to my day-to-day work compared to my actual experience of writing software for real companies.
“There are also a lot of paid internships in STEM, so try to take advantage of that — don’t do an unpaid internship, as you probably don’t need to!”
2) Build a strong peer network
“Building a strong peer network is super valuable. Make friends with the people you work with, and exchange notes with them, then stay in touch with them when you switch jobs. Over time, you’ll build a network of people across a lot of different places in the industry who have different experiences and who know different people.
“This network of peers gives you a wider pool of people to go to for guidance, allowing you to seek advice based on their individual experiences. This is more broadly useful and practical for most people than having one specific mentor who may or may not have time for you regularly.”
3) Join support groups
“If you have a small peer network and want to grow out, challenge yourself to go to a few meet-ups or support groups as these are great opportunities for networking. They’re also a good opportunity to find other people who may be facing similar difficulties to you if you’re feeling alone.
“People with different backgrounds are going to have different experiences, and it’s good to seek out groups of people who have similar experiences to you. For example, as a queer person, I find some of the groups for queer people in tech are more interesting to me than the women in tech groups, and I’m more likely to find common ground.”
4) Look at how companies treat their employees
“When applying for jobs, it’s important to get a sense of how much companies value their employees. Looking at the benefits is a good place to start — I’m not a parent, but I always look at how companies are going to treat parents because things like this speak to how a company supports its employees’ wellbeing.
“When you’re being interviewed for a job, you should also be interviewing the company. Ask questions like “What’s the gender breakdown of your team?” or “What is your plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion?”. The way they answer these questions will tell you a lot.”
5) Seek support outside of work
“As well as building a professional network, I also recommend having a group of people who are your support network outside of work who you can talk to about these things. Sometimes you might have a bad day and need an outside perspective, but don’t want the implications of talking to your coworker about it. So it’s important to make sure you have a good support network outside of work as well.”
Lucy Tittle, Head of Growth and Marketing at The Profs has shared her advice for women who are looking to pursue a career in a STEM industry:
“My advice would be ‘go for it’. I think most of the stereotypes around women in STEM are just that, stereotypes. Don’t be put off by the fact that there are currently fewer women in the industry than there should be – that just means more opportunities. There are also plenty of women already in the sector to guide and advocate for you!”
Lucy also shared the importance of seeking mentorship and support when working in STEM:
“A huge benefit of working in STEM is the human and monetary investment in personal development. I was fortunate enough to work closely with entrepreneurs, senior partners, and investors from the get-go of my career in tech. In STEM businesses, you certainly aren’t lacking in inspirational role models! To be able to sit down and receive face-to-face support from someone at the top of their game is very rare in most other areas of work.”
CloudZero analyzed a series of metrics across all 38 OECD member countries, including:
- Number of female workers
- Number and percentage of STEM roles held by women
- Percentage of female STEM graduates (most recent figure available for each country)
- The gender wage gap and average female salary
- The volume of STEM jobs available
Data from the OECD, LinkedIn and The World Bank was used to create an indexed ranking, which determined the countries championing women in STEM the most.
All data is accurate as of 9/18/23.