According to data analyzed by the National Girls Collaborative Project, women account for roughly half of the total college-educated workforce in the U.S., they’re represented in only 28% of science and engineering jobs. Furthermore, within the range of STEM occupations, women tend to be more concentrated in social sciences and in agricultural, biological and environmental life sciences; here, the share of female job holders exceeds 45%.
And, much like the female workforce, activity in industries pertaining to these fields is unevenly distributed across the country. Consequently, as graduate education in STEM fields look to improve effectiveness and inclusion—and more women are inspired and supported to pursue such career paths—CommercialCafe™ set out to determine the current top U.S. cities for women working in STEM.
While most of the cities highlighted in this article are roughly similar in size, some are outliers by a wide margin. For instance, cities like Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New York City, Philadelphia, Houston, and Chicago are significantly larger than other cities in their respective ranking categories. Granted, larger U.S. cities attract professionals in a wide variety of industries—including STEM—to make a life there.
Meanwhile, smaller U.S. cities offer their own convincing advantages—and actually outperform large, urban areas in some respects. In reality, many of the metrics that influence decisions of where to work and live in the U.S. tend to be related to personal preferences and are, therefore, immeasurable on a wide scale. Subsequently, because our analysis did not track lifestyle factors nor factor population totals into the scores, we opted to preserve all entries.
Rather, to gauge the degree of representation of women in STEM occupations, we looked at the share of female employees out of the total number of local employees in STEM occupations, as well as how that share has changed over time in each city. In order to put that metric into a comparable perspective, we also included the percentage of STEM jobs out of the total number of jobs in each city.
Moreover, in order to gauge economic incentives and estimate discretionary income, we also:
- Reviewed data on the median incomes of female STEM employees in each city
- Compared average local rents to the female STEM workers’ median incomes
- Tracked the change in each city’s female STEM workers’ median earnings during the previous five years
In addition, we also considered:
- The local share of women in management positions across all occupations
- The percentage of women who have healthcare through their employer the local unemployment rate for women
- These are potential indicators of the likelihood that the local economy and business environments are inclusive of women.
Finally, of the college-educated population of each city, we also examined the share of women who hold at least a bachelor’s degree. This is a way to estimate the scale of the local, like-minded community.
Read on to see which urban centers ranked best nationally and regionally, as well as which metrics were the strongest for each entry.
Top U.S. Cities for Women Working in STEM Are in West, South Regions
Arlington, Va., achieved the best overall score in our ranking—57.6 total points out of 100. The data we analyzed showed that the STEM workforce here accounted for 15% of total local jobs, which placed Arlington third for the size of the STEM sector within the local economy. In particular, between 2014 and 2018, Arlington saw an increase of three percentage points for female STEM employees; in 2018, they held 34% of local STEM jobs. During the same five-year interval, the median income for female STEM workers rose a modest 4% in the city, settling at just more than $85,000 in 2018.
Notably, Arlington also ranked first for women’s access to health insurance—79% of working women in the city are ensured through their employer. Arlington also recorded the lowest rate of unemployment for women—2% in 2018.
San Francisco earned a total score of 57.5 points for a very close second in our national ranking. Its strongest suits were its earnings metrics, for which it ranked second-highest among the cities on our list. Specifically, the median earnings of female STEM workers living in San Francisco experienced the second-largest five-year increase in our study at 45%. In fact, the city is one of only two on our list in which the median income of female STEM employees exceeds $100,000 per year. (The other city is also located in California and earned the third-best score on our list.)
Fremont came in third overall, with a total score of 56.7 points. Nearly 30% of the city’s jobs are in a STEM field, 24% of which are held by women. Between 2014 and 2018, Fremont saw the fourth-highest increase—21%—in median wages for women working in these industries. Following that five-year improvement, female STEM employees in Fremont were earning the highest median income out of all of the cities on our list—$101,341. What’s more, the strong, local drive to encourage girls to consider education and career paths in engineering is also visible in supportive local partnerships—like the Tesla and Envirolution workshops, as well as hands-on engineering activities organized in honor of Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day in 2019.
Washington, D.C. landed in fourth with a total score of 55.7 points. The city boasts an impressively diverse economy in which 12% of jobs are STEM occupations, 42% of which are held by women. This placed D.C. and Durham in a tie for first place for degree of representation of women in STEM. Not to be overlooked, the capital is also home to the fifth-highest median income nationwide for female STEM workers, following Arlington and just ahead of Oakland. The city also ranked well for rent to STEM income ratio, as the local average rent accounts for roughly 22% of the median income of female STEM workers who live here.
Durham scored a total of 53.8 points and came in fifth. Of the cities we researched for this ranking, Durham ranked highest for the percentage of women in the local STEM workforce—42%, according to 2018 U.S. Census Bureau data. STEM industries account for 10% of the total employment in Durham. As an integral part of the Research Triangle Park and home to heavily STEM-oriented educational and research institutions, it was hardly a surprise that the city ranked best for women’s overall educational attainment—57% of college-educated residents are women. While the median income of local female STEM workers increased 15% between 2014 and 2018, the final earnings value ranked tenth on our list. However, data showed that this income stretches further in Durham than in other urban centers; the city ranked second for its rent-to-median-income ratio, with the local average rent accounting for 21% of the median earnings of women working in STEM.
Oakland—in sixth place overall—ranked third for educational attainment; here, women make up 56% of the local college-educated population. The average rent here is roughly 22% of women STEM workers’ median income.
In Seattle, 17% of jobs are in STEM occupations and women occupy 30% of them. Additionally, the city ranked third for access to healthcare, with 68% of women insured through their employer. Only 3.6% of local women were unemployed in 2018, which gave Seattle the fourth-best unemployment rate. Sacramento came in eighth overall. California’s state capital’s strongest suits were its increase in representation of women in STEM—which improved 10 percentage points between 2014 and 2018—and its third-place ranking for the representation of women in the industry workforce; 41% of STEM jobs in Sacramento are held by women.
Glendale received the most points for housing affordability out of all of the cities on our list. In 2018, the average rent here accounted for just 13% of the median income for female STEM workers. The Arizona city also ranked highest for growth in earnings; from 2014 to 2018, median earnings increased 112% for female STEM employees. The 2018 median value of roughly $90,500 in annual income placed Glendale third for this metric, behind only Fremont and San Francisco. However, it’s worth noting that during the same five-year interval, the percentage of local STEM jobs that were occupied by women decreased by 14 percentage points, resting at 24% in 2018.
Tacoma rounds out the top 10, with a total score of 51.2 points. Here, the STEM sector accounts for 5% of local jobs, and the percentage of women occupying these jobs increased by 15 percentage points since 2014. This was the highest growth recorded among the cities on our list and brought the degree of local STEM representation of women up to 35% in 2018. Tacoma also ranked second for educational attainment, with women accounting for 56% of the college-educated population. It’s also worth noting that the city took the lead on the women in management index; 56% of total local management positions are held by women.
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