Women in STEM: Why It's Business Critical
Great talent is hard to find, isn’t it?
It’s especially true when we’re looking for specialists in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).
Unfortunately, this isn’t just a talent problem. It’s also a gender-inequality problem. And solving one problem will likely help solve the other. I’m certainly not the first person to call attention to this issue. Frankly, it’s been said so often that I hesitate to even broach the subject. But with International Women’s Day right around the corner, I figure that now is as good a time as ever to take another look at how corporate America can push for progress.
I myself entered the tech industry in an unconventional way: I was an English major who was hired “accidentally” by IBM after taking a programmer aptitude test at another company. They gave me the excellent training they’re known for, and I received career opportunities beyond anything I’d ever imagined.
Today, we have women CEOs leading Fortune 50 technology companies, but the overall statistics of women in STEM professions are not that impressive. This underrepresentation is a real missed opportunity. Getting women more involved can provide a host of amazing benefits for both our businesses and our society as a whole.
While we’ve seen notable victories by women in recent history, the numbers coming out of the STEM world are disappointing: According to a U.S. Department of Commerce report, women held 47 percent of jobs in America but only 24 percent of the STEM jobs.
Additionally, according to a paper published in Social Forces, women were more likely to leave their STEM jobs than they were those in other professional fields.
Why has this become such an important issue for businesses? Because getting women more involved in STEM has the potential not only to change the world but also to offer a huge advantage to companies willing to invest in providing women with the tools to succeed in this area.
Here are three powerful reasons why:
1. Women will bring more talent into short-handed industries
With the speed at which the tech industry is growing, there’s an ever-increasing need for more skilled thinkers, problem-solvers, and creators.
Tech companies worked to fill over 650,000 new jobs in the past few years — and two thirds of them were STEM-related.
The demand for talent in this area is higher than ever, and the talent pool of qualified women has never been larger — increasingly greater numbers of women than men are graduating from college.
An increase in overall candidates means that you’ll find more talented and effective people to tackle your most important projects.
Sound great? We think so, too.
2. Too much of the same perspective is dangerous
The STEM fields solve many of the world’s toughest problems. And what’s one of the worst things you can have when you’re trying to solve a complex problem?
A group of people who think the same way.
“People who can combine STEM and relate it to humans will have the highest-paying jobs. Steve Jobs was brilliant at this. He was not the best programmer. But he combined empathy and enough STEM to invent this baby [pointing to his iPhone].” Thomas Friedman
As STEM grows and becomes more diverse, we’ll begin to gain access to new ways of thinking. Just imagine the new, groundbreaking discoveries that will happen once STEM gains greater access to voices of all types — spanning all genders, socioeconomic groups, and ethnicities.
3. Improving this area will likely have a positive effect on gender equality worldwide
Yes, women have come so far in the struggle for full equity. Yet even in 2018, we still have things like the gender pay gap, where women’s pay has continued to hover around 80% of what men make.
But imagine for a moment what would happen if we got women more involved in STEM fields, which tend to be higher-paying jobs. We could begin to see money flowing in a more equal way to women simply by helping overcome the stereotype that STEM jobs are “male” jobs.
How can we as leaders encourage more women to get involved in STEM?
Considering the high attrition rate, the first thing we can do is to help stop the bleeding and retain the women who are already in STEM-related jobs.
Here are two effective ways to do that:
- Mentorship. Most of us can point to a few people who gave us the guidance we needed to get where we are today. Often, women don’t receive this kind of guidance in their work, and providing it can make them significantly less likely leave STEM professions.
- Sponsorship. The difference between a mentor and a sponsor is that a sponsor champions a person for advancements, opportunities, and raises. It’s often someone higher up in the company who makes sure the employee is getting the opportunities she deserves. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, a gender-inequality researcher who writes for Harvard Business Review, notes that women are only half as likely as men to have a sponsor. With more access to sponsors, we could see retention skyrocket — and we may even begin to see women promoted at the same rate as men.
Apart from keeping women in current STEM roles, there’s also the issue of the vast pool of female college graduates not choosing STEM jobs. How do we change that?
For starters, we need to communicate differently about our job opportunities. Women need to know that there are more opportunities for them than just being a coder. The range of ways in which they can apply their talent is vast — but they may not realize it until later in life. That’s why creating avenues for second careers and additional education will also give businesses a shot at landing talented women.
Women can and should be equally represented in STEM fields
I’m excited about making that a reality. And we’re honored to stand with you on International Women’s Day, as we all come together to celebrate the accomplishments of women and look for ways to continue the fight for gender equality in all fields — including STEM.