System Critical – The Need for Women in STEM

7 October, 2021 | Jennifer Driscoll | Careers in IT

TechSherpas 365 recently attended the “Women in the Workforce: A journey in STEM” conference held in Washington D.C. The conference explored the barriers women face and how to overcome them – while also providing tools and resources to encourage young women to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers.

Read on to find out why it is so imperative for us to encourage young women to pursue STEM and their vital role in advancing innovation.

Bridging the Gender Gap

With the passage of time, attitudes and practices of empowering women in the workplace have changed in a more positive direction. While there is much to celebrate, there is still much to be done. Despite the fact that in 2020, (pre-pandemic) the US Bureau of Labor reported that women make up 50.04% of the workforce, they hold only 27% of STEM-related positions.

In order to close the gender gap in STEM fields, we need solutions that work on multiple levels. In childhood, girls are often discouraged from science and mathematics and encouraged to adopt care-oriented careers. The discrimination against women in STEM continues through education and into the workplace.Power Platform Worker

The following are key factors perpetuating the gender gap in STEM:

  • Stereotypes – Inequity and exclusion create chain reactions in this field. Girls may be interested in STEM during their early education, but they may think of the field as being reserved for boys or men. As a result, they may choose goals that are more socially acceptable to them.
  • Lack of Diversity – Since fewer women are studying and working in STEM fields, these fields tend to perpetuate inflexible, exclusionary, male-dominated cultures that do not support or attract women and other minorities.
  • Limited Mentorship – There are fewer female role models who inspire girls/women to pursue these areas. Limited representation also discourages them from pursuing careers in these fields.

Women and young girls must be encouraged to pursue – and remain in – STEM roles by eliminating the most common obstacles to them. In championing women in technology, we add diverse perspectives to industry conversations – perspectives that can provide new ideas and opportunities for innovation.

Diversity makes STEM better

Research proves that more gender diversity leads to greater access of viewpoints, questions, and areas studied by researchers, leading to greater exploration of new research areas and technical innovation. Without women and other underrepresented groups in STEM, the world will miss out on the value of alternate perspectives.

As mentioned in our previous blog “Why the Future of Technology Depends on Women and Diversity,It’s no secret, women think differently than men. Reports indicate that on average, companies that promote diversity and equality, outperform their underrepresented peers by 34% and companies that had women in multiple leadership roles saw over a 60% increase in their return on investment.”

It has also been reported that companies that offer inclusive environments achieve their financial goals by 120%. Not only does diversity breed innovation, it also seems to go hand in hand with increased profits.

How to Increase Diversity:

  • Bias Training Employees and management should be trained in how to recognize implicit biases and reduce their impact in the workforce.
  • Diverse Decision-Making Committees In all committees, women and people of color should be included, whether selecting speakers for a conferences, review candidates for technical positions, or evaluate applications. Researchers have found that the presence of even one woman on speakers selection committees positively correlates with an increased proportion of female participants.
  • Mentoring Programs It is crucial that women have mentors to provide career advice, guidance, and support. By creating a mentorship program, women in STEM can feel less isolated and connected.
  • Promoting Work-Life Balance Since women continue to bear more caregiving duties than men, institutions should implement family-friendly policies, such as on-site child care and medical leave benefits, and flexible working environments.

Diversifying Management

Almost 7% of all U.S. occupations are in STEM fields, and STEM employees play a crucial role in America’s innovative capacity and global competitiveness. To understand today’s threats and develop feasible solutions, we need every tool at our disposal. Since STEM fields are at the forefront of creating and finding innovative solutions, we need the best thinkers at every level, and women must be included.

Women tend to possess the “soft” skills that many STEM-based companies or groups lack (but always need), such as emotional intelligence, collaboration skills, and empathy – when these attributes are coupled with technical skills, you have someone you’d want on your team — or better yet, in management.

Approximately 16% of managers in the information technology industry are women. The gender gap persists among C-level executives, with only 3% of CEOs and 17% of CIOs being female. As mentioned earlier, reports show that companies who promote diversity and equality, outperform their peers by 34%, and companies that had women in multiple leadership roles saw over 60% increase on ROI.

In fostering broader diversity, having a greater women’s presence in leadership can drive recruitment efforts and fuel long-term cultural shifts necessary for sustainability. The gender STEM gap may have started in the classroom, but it culminates in the boardroom. Women remain a significant minority in most innovation-related fields, resulting in skill shortages and stalled progress.

Encouraging Education and Training

There has historically been a systematic exclusion of women from higher education. The opening of education to women has seen great progress in recent decades, but there remains a great deal to be done. Across colleges, STEM fields see a greater imbalance of males to females than other degree programs.

Research indicates that 49% of women who enter college wanting to major in STEM change their major, compared with only 32% of men. In science and engineering, women make up only 27% of the overall workforce, despite making up half of the total workforce with college degrees.

Alternative EducationWomen in Tech

Like anything that changes with the times, traditional aspects of “education” have also adapted. The ability to obtain a certification is now more accessible than obtaining a degree from a traditional school.

Technology certifications are an example of alternative education young women can easily pursue. A certification can serve as a substitute for a traditional four-year degree. IT certification candidates can easily become certified in Microsoft, Cisco, CompTIA, Cybersecurity, VMware, ITIL, and so on.

Certifications are achievable and reduce the number of hurdles established in the traditional setting for girls who are interested in becoming developers, data scientists, database administrators, risk managers, and many other professions.  As with four-year institutions, scholarships are available for young women who choose the certification route for their STEM careers.

Looking to the Future

There’s work to be done. The companies, teachers, and individuals that create cultures that promote, empower, and advance women lead the way in breaking down barriers.

It is important to inspire and attract new generations of female workers to traditionally male industries. We need new ideas and innovations to fill the skills gap as well as support new ideas and innovations in the workplace. In the long run, organizations can benefit from embracing diversity in all its facets and enjoy success for generations to come.

Get in touch with TechSherpas 365 to discuss your training needs if you are interested in pursuing a STEM career or know of someone else who is.