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Breaking Barriers: The Rise of Black Women in STEM

From overcoming gender and racial bias to breaking the glass ceiling, Black women are rising to the challenges in the world of STEM.
From overcoming gender and racial bias to breaking the glass ceiling Black women are rising to the challenges in the world of STEM

The Struggle is Real: Challenges Black Women Face in BlackSTEM

Let’s not sugarcoat it—Black women in STEM face a double whammy of gender and racial bias. Stereotypes about women’s abilities in math and science start early, often undermining their confidence. This is even worse for Black women, who also have to deal with racial stereotypes. Teachers have been found to award lower grades to girls for the same math work as boys, and this bias is often magnified for Black girls (BestColleges).

“Women of color face some of the biggest hurdles in STEM occupations. In 2022, Black and Hispanic and Indigenous women, and other underrepresented women of color, made up less than 10% of the STEM workforce in the U.S.” (BestColleges)

The lack of representation is even more glaring at the leadership level. In 2016, the National Science Foundation reported that 24% of Black women who earned a doctorate studied a STEM field. Yet in 2017, Black men and women made up only 5% of STEM managers. This is not just a “women in STEM” issue; it’s a racial issue too. For more on the challenges Black Americans face in various sectors, check out our article on Black Politics and Anti-Black Politics.

The Pay Gap: A Double-Edged Sword

Hold onto your seats; the pay gap in STEM is real and it’s ugly. Women earn approximately 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man. But wait, there’s more. The STEM wage gap is even greater for Black and Hispanic women. Black women working in STEM make around $52,700 per year, whereas Hispanic women make $52,000 per year (BestColleges).

“Today, women earn approximately 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Several factors contribute to the gender wage gap, including differences in industries, job titles, and experience. But even within STEM careers, women consistently earn less than men.” (BestColleges)

The wage gap isn’t just about the choice of study. Even within the same academic majors, women earn lower salaries than men. For a deeper dive into the economic challenges faced by Black Americans, check out our article on How the Great Depression Affected Black Women.

The Road to Empowerment: Overcoming Barriers

Despite the doom and gloom, there’s a silver lining. Black women are breaking barriers and making strides in STEM fields. Mentorship programs and scholarships specifically for women in STEM are helping to level the playing field. Organizations like Encouraging Women Across All Borders are mentoring students and early-career professionals in STEM (BestColleges).

“Mentors help women plan out their careers and advance in their fields. A number of organizations offer mentorship opportunities specifically for women in STEM.” (BestColleges)

But mentorship isn’t the only solution. Representation matters. Seeing Black women in STEM roles can inspire the next generation to pursue these fields.

The Pioneers: Black Women Who’ve Made History in STEM

Let’s talk game-changers. Dr. Gladys West, a mathematician, was instrumental in developing the Global Positioning System (GPS). She was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame in 2018. Then there’s Dr. Jeanette Epps, an aerospace engineer and NASA astronaut, who’s set to become the first Black woman to join an International Space Station crew (Scientific American).

“Dr. Jeanette Epps is set to make history as the first African American astronaut to become a crew member of the International Space Station.” (Scientific American)

The Power of Community: Organizations Uplifting Black Women in STEM

Community support is a game-changer. Organizations like Black Girls Code and Sisters in STEM aim to close the gender and racial gap in STEM. They offer coding workshops, mentorship programs, and scholarships to Black girls and women. These organizations are not just talking the talk; they’re walking the walk (Forbes).

“Black Girls Code has set out to prove to the world that girls of every color have the skills to become the programmers of tomorrow.” (Forbes)

The Future is Bright: Scholarships and Programs

Money talks, and scholarships for Black women in STEM are speaking volumes. The National Society of Black Engineers offers scholarships ranging from $500 to $5,000. The Society of Women Engineers also provides scholarships specifically for women of color pursuing engineering degrees (Niche).

“The National Society of Black Engineers offers various scholarship programs, with award amounts ranging from $500 to $5,000 for African American students.” (Niche)

Scholarships are a stepping stone to leveling the playing field. For more on educational opportunities for Black Americans, check out our article on Affirmative Action and the Future of Racial Diversity in Higher Education.

The Corporate World: Breaking the Glass Ceiling

When it comes to the corporate world, Black women are making strides but still face significant barriers. Ursula Burns, the first Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company, Xerox, is a prime example. Her leadership style and accomplishments have been studied as a blueprint for success.

“Ursula Burns shattered the glass ceiling by becoming the first African American woman to head a Fortune 500 company.” (CNN Business)

This shattering of the glass ceiling is a testament to the astonishing strength and resilience of Black women.

The Media’s Role: Representation Matters

Media representation is crucial. Shows like “Hidden Figures” and documentaries such as “Black in Space: Breaking the Color Barrier” are not just entertainment; they’re educational tools that inspire the next generation of Black women in STEM.

“Representation in media can significantly influence the aspirations of young Black girls who see themselves in roles they never thought possible.” (The Guardian)

Conclusion: The Journey Ahead

The rise of Black women in STEM is a multifaceted narrative of struggle, resilience, and triumph. While significant progress has been made, the journey is far from over. The need for mentorship, community support, and equitable opportunities remains as crucial as ever. As we look to the future, the role of educational institutions, corporate policies, and media representation will be pivotal in shaping the next chapter of this inspiring story.

For a broader perspective on the Black experience in America, from the historical to the contemporary, our comprehensive list of articles serves as a valuable resource.


  • “Hidden Figures No More: Meet the Black Women Who Helped Send America to Space.” Scientific American. Accessed August 27, 2023.
  • “The Importance of Mentorship for Women in Tech.” Forbes. Accessed August 27, 2023.
  • “Ursula Burns: Lessons from the First Black Woman to Run a Fortune 500 Company.” CNN Business. Accessed August 27, 2023.
  • “How ‘Hidden Figures’ Impacted the Aspirations of Young Black Girls.” The Guardian. Accessed August 27, 2023.