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‘Dress For STEM’ Celebrates Women in STEM and Brings Awareness to Gender Gap

Brandon Arbuckle & Tiffany Stronghart March 1, 2024
A graphic featuring two female STEM professionals as part of Dress for STEM

Every year in March, we celebrate the contributions women have made throughout American history as part of Women’s History Month. There’s another observance during this month dedicated to women working in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers, and it also acknowledges that there’s still room to grow.

“Dress for STEM” takes place on March 14th, the same day as Pi Day. The annual observance began as a grassroots movement in 2016 by a group of female meteorologists in broadcast news

The movement was formed to honor female STEM professionals and the pioneers who came before them. At the same time, it’s also meant to start a conversation and bring awareness to the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields. Those who participate show their support by wearing purple and creating social media posts with the hashtag #DressforSTEM.

“We may be a minority, but we are there and we’re good at our jobs,” said Samantha Thompson, a developer at J. J. Keller & Associates and graduate of the
University of Wisconsin Bachelor of Science in Applied Computing program. “It’s important for young girls to recognize that you have an option. You don’t just have to go into a program that someone else is pushing you into. You can do this, and it’s fun.” 

A Gallup report on Generation Z shows that more young girls and women expressed low confidence in their STEM abilities compared to their male counterparts. The report also notes male Gen Z youth are exposed to more STEM concepts in school such as computer science and physics.

Women account for half of today’s workforce in the US, but only one-third are working in STEM fields, and even fewer are in management positions. “Dress for STEM” aims to inspire the next generation of female STEM professionals by lifting others up and promoting representation.

A graphic showing that female Gen Z members think they are not good at STEM“Why is it important for anybody to be represented in any field?” said Grace Zeitz, a student in the UW Master of Science in Cybersecurity program. “It’s to see yourself reflected in something that you think you might want to do–that would be so beneficial to so many people. I know I would have benefited a lot more from seeing more people like me in STEM when I was younger, because I had the opposite experience.”

Amy Carrozzino-Lyon, a restoration scientist and faculty member in the UW Master of Science in Biodiversity Conservation and Management program, notes that in her undergraduate education, women were in the minority. 

“But a lot of programs, in the case of my alma mater, actually are now switching to more female representation in these conservation degrees. Why is that? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that the door opened and people feel comfortable pursuing that education now that it’s becoming more common. I think maybe, too, perhaps women see the diversity of opportunity in conservation. A lot of people originally pursued that type of degree because they were going to be a forester or a forest ranger or some of the more traditional jobs that were available in conservation. That has diversified immensely just in my time in the field [20 years] as well.”

CareerBuilder notes that more than half of life sciences positions in the US are filled by women, with life sciences manager roles leading the way at 56 percent of all positions surveyed. However, while certain STEM fields such as life sciences have made strides in reaching a more diverse workforce, other fields like computing remain predominantly male. The pay gap also persists across industries, as women in STEM on average earn less than their male colleagues. Those who participate in “Dress for STEM” hope to push for change by reducing these disparities.

Siobhann Steindorf, a student in the UW Master of Science in Information Technology Management program, says having multiple college degrees and working toward a master’s degree has helped her win over male colleagues. “I know I’m smart. I shouldn’t have to tell someone I have two degrees. But sometimes I think education is proof. Having that education does help, because it shows that you’ve worked, you’ve at least taken the classes and passed, and there’s at least some sort of knowledge or comprehension.”

UW Online Collaboratives and UW Flexible Option competency-based educational courses are also great for working moms. Elizabeth Garfoot, a UW Information Technology Management graduate, celebrated a milestone while in the program—having a baby in November 2022. She appreciated the flexibility she was offered as she was about to give birth.

“My cohort was really understanding and accepting. My professor was super understanding. He let me get some stuff done a month or two in advance. But everybody was flexible and just super helpful. I thought I’d be overwhelmed, but it worked out great,” she said.

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Learn more about our 100% online degree and certificate programs.

In honor of “Dress for STEM,” UW Online Collaboratives is highlighting the women in our degree and certificate programs who have contributed to the STEM field. UW Online Collaboratives partners with campuses across the Universities of Wisconsin to provide multiple STEM programs to students. With 100 percent online offerings that allow students to fit courses into their busy schedules, our semester- and competency-based programs provide the skills and practical experience required to excel in the field.

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To find out more about our STEM programs, contact an enrollment adviser by calling 608-800-6762 or emailing

Programs: Applied Bioinformatics, Applied Biotechnology, Applied Computing, Biodiversity Conservation and Management, Cybersecurity, Data Science, Health Information Management and Technology, IT Management