Women today out-earn men in college degrees and advanced degrees. Women make up more than half of America's population, and just under half of the workforce.
But when it comes to filling the fastest-growing jobs in our economy in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), women do not come close.
In fact, the latest census found that only 26 percent of STEM workers in the United States were women, meaning a full 74 percent of all STEM jobs are filled by men.
As a growing share of American families rely on women as their sole source of income -- this should come as a big wake up call.
To fix the problem and eliminate the STEM gender gap, we must work to make these science and technology fields more accessible to women -- at earlier stages in their academic and professional careers. Programs like Million Women Mentors (MWM), an initiative of STEMconnector, is advancing this cause by connecting corporations, nonprofits and government entities to raise awareness and support young girls and women in STEM education. Since the MWM program launch in January, over 50,000 pledges have been made to mentor girls and young women in STEM fields.
At a congressional luncheon hosted by MWM earlier this month, I was proud to stand with 18 of my fellow House and Senate colleagues as we reaffirmed our commitment to work in our states and districts, and throughout the U.S., to ensure that women gain access to these vitally important STEM fields.
In New York, I have been working for years to advance the role and exposure of STEM, not only to women, but also to minorities and students from economically distressed communities who are woefully underrepresented in STEM industries. Just last month I announced my innovative education agenda in Long Island to provide grants for local schools to promote learning and career opportunities in STEM, encouraging youth, and especially women, to explore STEM-related careers. It also aims to strengthen engineering programs and bring more STEM teachers to high-need areas.
In January, along with Representative Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), I introduced the STEM Gateway Act in Congress. This bill creates a grant program for elementary and secondary schools, community colleges and partner organizations that support students from historically underrepresented and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
But legislation alone will not lead us to future success. As mentors, parents, teachers, community leaders, business leaders and lawmakers -- we all must do our part to help guide and inspire the next generation -- so they are equipped with the tools and resources they need to advance in these cutting-edge jobs.
My hope is that in the future, women stop referring to themselves as "the only woman" in their physics lab or only one of two in their computer science jobs. Mentorship can help make that difference. A strong and dedicated mentor can help a young woman get her foot in the door, get a promotion and get a raise. A strong mentor can help a young woman find and advance in the career of her dreams that otherwise may have seemed impossible.
During this month dedicated to women's history, we must remember and honor all those who came before us and paved the way to break down gender barriers. However, we must also remember that we are not there yet. We are still fighting for pay equity and career opportunities that match our male counterparts. While working to fix the STEM gender gap will not solve all the problems, it will go a long way to ensuring that our nation's next generation of women are exposed to the most economically vital careers and opportunities.