Why we need more women in STEM

Why we need more women in STEM

Each day we are reminded of diversity in the STEM workforce. This raises the question of how many bright women are not acknowledged at the table. And how many more lack the opportunity to demonstrate their talent.

Women exit their STEM jobs in part due to deep-rooted biases and pay disparities. In Kenya, about 43% of STEM graduates are women, but they only represent 14% of STEM jobs. Most of the women STEM graduates in the country either pursue another career or do not work at all. Globally, we observe a similar challenge of a low share of STEM graduates which weakens the pipeline of STEM jobs represented by women. 

I would like to share my views on why having more women in STEM will create equitable workplace opportunities and result in better business outcomes. 

Women leaders set a good example for other women 

My experience tells me that growth is directly proportional to the exposure women get beyond what is demanded from their job roles. The development can happen most effectively in a business context too. Therefore, it is important to have women in leadership positions as role models for the next generation of girls in STEM.

Successful women have confidence in their abilities. They make sure their ideas get heard. They mentor other women through their success stories, provide insight into current business trends and guide them on how these insights could be applied to their current roles. 

Women leaders inspire young girls to be more confident, bring their authentic selves to work, seek growth opportunities and become successful women who can drive efforts in gender equality. This also creates a ripple effect where women could then extend themselves by being role models for the next generation. 

Women are important to the future of innovation

Men and women perceive things differently and can bring unique ideas to the table. Their ideas are valuable because high-tech teams in the workforce need cognitive diversity and gender diversity to produce significant outcomes. 

Today, there is a growing realization of how women are deepening empathy and bringing diverse thoughts into the workforce. The presence of women makes individuals think out of the box and encourages them to work harder to find solutions. In fact, research from the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that companies with 30% of women leaders have a 15% increase in profitability compared to their industry peers with no women leaders.

Since companies have understood the importance of fostering a culture where all women can thrive, they are turning to barrier-breaking efforts. They are taking intentional steps toward pay equity, focus groups, child care assistance, and return-to-work program to encourage women to re-enter STEM workforces after a career break. Better yet, companies are implementing policies that will promote equal access to leadership roles.

How to break free from internalized stereotypes

Women can achieve success in STEM by themselves. I have observed over a period of time that women do not ask for what they want in their careers, but assume everyone around them will understand what they need. Leaning on their strengths, leveraging opportunities, and speaking up in the workplace can help them grow by leaps and bounds. 

My advice to women is not to allow prejudices to interfere with their ability to express their thoughts. Women should have a free flow of dialogues and encourage other women who are on a similar growth path. Truth is, having strong allies in the workplace helps to advance women in STEM. 

There are two ways to keep women in STEM positions. First, make sure the workplace encourages and promotes both equality and work/life balance. And second, make sure the pipeline to STEM jobs for women is clear and encouraged from an early age. 

There are many ways companies (and I don’t know just mean STEM companies!) can promote greater gender diversity. Here are three strategies I recommend to increase female representation at every level of an organization:

Establish Equality With Flexibility 

Foster a culture that recognizes people have life outside of work. Having a baby doesn’t make you less of an employee. Businesses shouldn’t underestimate the power of extended maternity and paternity leave programs. Mothers specifically don’t like being forced to decide between leaving their baby prematurely and getting a paycheck. Understanding that giving parents flexibility at this crucial time in a parent’s life will pay off tenfold in employee longevity and satisfaction. 

Acceptance and Support From the Top

Companies with the best track records of hiring and promoting women into leadership positions have CEOs and executive teams that reflect this commitment to diversity. If a company has a high percentage of women in leadership roles, statistics show it’s likely that trend will cascade down through the organization. 

Persistence, Persistence, Persistence

It’s easy for companies to create and launch initiatives focused on improving gender diversity—but continuing these programs requires ongoing dedication and focus. Executives can’t “set and forget” this type of initiative. Companies with dedicated Diversity and Inclusion teams are the ones with better track records. 

Mentorship and Coaching

I’ve found that regularly checking in with my female employees has helped them feel more confident in their positions and in the workplace in general. My employees know that they have an advocate in me and that gives them the extra boost they may need, whether it’s sharing an opinion in a meeting or vying for a position on a new project.

Recruiting women to your organization requires a consistent and targeted approach. STEM-based companies need to send representatives to schools with science and engineering programs to talk with students getting ready to graduate. Share stories of female leadership and success. Make it clear that gender diversity is a mandate at your company.  

We need more women in STEM positions--and in the workforce overall. Join me in employing these strategies to encourage and promote women. 

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