While STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) industries are booming, there is still a significant lack of diversity in these fields.
Progress has been made in gender equality, but this has been slow. According to a 2018 report by the National Girls Collaborative Project, women accounted for 28% of the workforce in science and engineering. That’s to say nothing of other challenges such as wage disparity. There are certainly industry leaders who are women, working to shine a light on how vital a more diverse workforce is in STEM fields, but such women who graduate to senior roles in STEM are few and far between.
What’s the situation in 2020? We’re going to explore how STEM industries can benefit from contributions from a more diverse workforce. Where are current recruitment needs? How can we best approach these opportunities to create a more inclusive and varied STEM environment?
STEM Needs and Demands
While STEM industries as a whole need to attract and recruit more women, there are certainly those that are further behind than others. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) 2019 Women in Science report, just 29% of workers in research and development (R&D) roles are women. Yet, diversity is a crucial element in developing a robust team of researchers who can approach challenges from more than a single cultural viewpoint. The authors of the Elsevier paper, Gender in the Global Research Landscape, an analysis of research performance over a period of two years found that, “diversity adds to the collective intelligence of a research group,” with a greater likelihood of creating new ideas.
There are also areas of particular geographical need. The Women’s Engineering Society in the UK, for example, reported that the country has the lowest number of female engineers in Europe, just 10% in 2017. In the US, on the other hand, there is a clear need in information technology (IT) and computer sciences, with a 2019 Catalyst report showing only 18.7% of bachelor’s degree recipients in those fields were women. Alongside a generalized focus on encouraging women into STEM fields, it is perhaps just as important to show where there is a specific need for greater diversity.
STEM organizations are often quick to point out that the lack of women in their industries isn’t because they aren’t wanted. But that doesn’t mean to say that enough is being done to address the issue of actually attracting women into these sectors. It’s important to look at the potential barriers to recruiting and what the solutions could be in the current climate.
- Salaries. The provision of a living wage is one of the key topics of discussion in the US, with many people having to work multiple jobs in order to achieve this basic income. However, the living wage usually doesn’t take into account student loan payments, which workers in STEM fields are likely to have accrued. Leaders in STEM industries must make efforts to ensure their entry-level recruitment strategy proposes salaries that reflect the investment workers have made to obtain the skills required.
- Advancement. There’s a need to bring more women into STEM roles at all levels, but in order to ensure retention, there also needs to be solid opportunities for advancement. A 2018 study by Payscale found that promotions were usually awarded to workers of the same gender as the supervisor. In fields where men remain the majority, this is obviously problematic. Companies must advertise how their paths for progression mitigate the potential for bias and support equality.
- Culture. STEM-based companies are increasingly becoming better at providing support for workers who are also mothers: paid time off, daycare provisions, and greater flexibility. In 2020, Intel, Cisco, and Microsoft were among those highlighted by JUST Capital as companies whose culture includes a commitment to issues such as work/life balance and ethics. We should expect more companies to soon demonstrate how their culture is compatible with a variety of lifestyles.
Tips for STEM Careers
We’ve established the need to be more women in STEM, but what are practical routes into improving the chances of securing those roles? While it’s not always possible to avoid those companies that reinforce the glass ceiling that continues to be prevalent, it can be worth our time to research companies’ commitments to diversity. Some STEM-based firms such as Facebook and Microsoft have become more transparent about the demographic makeup of their workforce. Look at their hiring policies and at how diverse, not just their workforce is, but also their leadership.
Educationally speaking, it’s worth noting that formal degrees — while they provide a useful shorthand to skills for employers — are not always necessary for all STEM roles, particularly in the IT sector. Female leaders in STEM often assert that workers including coders, cybersecurity experts, and developers are increasingly self-taught, and the ability to show a portfolio of self-driven work can demonstrate the true extent of a candidate’s abilities and creative thought. Even where formal education is undertaken, it can be advantageous to show independent efforts.
In interview scenarios, whether for entry positions or promotion, it’s important to assert opinions and ideas. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak noted that when he taught in school, girls had as much IT knowledge as boys but by age 12, they were less likely to raise their hands to answer questions. This seems to come from generations of social pressure and expectations: women who are assertive tend to be written off as “bossy,” while their male counterparts would be lauded as proactive. Displaying confidence and speaking up about potential solutions and ambitions can help set expectations of a woman’s strengths and encourage others to do the same.
While there are efforts to encourage more women into STEM fields, there is still work to be done to achieve equality. In 2020, we should expect and insist upon greater transparency in companies’ commitment to diversity, adjustments in recruitment in order to attract a wider talent pool, and for women themselves to assert their potential as a force for innovation and creativity.