Women in STEM are incredible. There is no doubt about it. But there is also no question that the industry has a deep history of gender inequity.
As a veteran of the sciences, I cannot remember a time when we were not fighting the gender gap. Though we have made concerted efforts as a society to increase the percentage of women in STEM, specifically in leadership roles, a recent study tells us that the gender gap for women in technology as a whole is actually wider today than it was in 1984.
Yikes. That really puts things into perspective.
The study, led by Accenture and Girls who Code, further shows that 50% of women abandon technology careers by the age of 35 and that women are leaving tech roles at a 45% higher rate than men. Furthermore, only 21% of women said they believed the technology industry was a place they could thrive, with only 8% of that metric being women of color. That’s devastating.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has only worsened the challenges that women face. A new report conducted by TrustRadius found that women in tech carry even more household responsibilities now, showing that 57% of women in tech felt burned out at work this year. We also learned that women in tech are twice as likely as men to have lost their jobs or be furloughed due to the pandemic. Between juggling their careers, caring for children or elderly parents, remote learning, the anxiety of keeping the family healthy, and normal parental responsibilities, women in the workforce are drowning.
Enough is enough. We must do better for the young girls and women with dreams of thriving in the STEM world. We have a lot of work to do – not only to attract and keep female talent but to also make the industry more diverse across the board.
It is time we acknowledge that the current approach to correcting the gender gap in STEM fields isn’t working. The onus is on each and every one of us to step up and advocate for change. Here are three areas to focus our efforts in order to make tangible progress:
I am a firm believer that a flexible working culture is directly correlated to employee wellbeing and engagement. The pandemic has only made flexibility in the workplace more critical, so this must be a priority in order to attract and keep top female talent!
This structure could mean an alternative weekly schedule, continued remote work, or a split workday format. There will be no “one size fits all” method. The key here will be to listen to your female employees in order to meet their needs.
Provide Role Models:
Due to gender disparity in the field, young women and girls can have a hard time picturing themselves working in the STEM field. In order to attract the bright minds of tomorrow, we must place women in prominent leadership roles, identify female STEM professionals to speak to students, encourage the attendance of women lead workshops and webinars, and celebrate women often!
Role models aren’t just for young women dreaming of a career in tech. We need to make sure we also offer mentorship and networking opportunities for women as they enter in this field so they can continue to grow.
Adopt Key Cultural Practices & Support Networks:
To reset the trajectory of the industry, we must stop expecting women to conform and adapt to current conditions. Instead, put in the work to change your company culture to fit the behavior and needs of women! I encourage you to push the envelope beyond traditional approaches. Here are a few ideas:
Providing workplace support can look like many things, including mentorship opportunities, networking events, and employee resources/ tools. Again, the key is to listen to your employees and meet them where they are at.
Securing support systems in place is a good step, but in order to be successful, these efforts should be supplemented with company-wide cultural initiatives. The industry has an unfortunate case of “bro-culture” and it is no surprise that the Accenture/ Girls who Code study found that 37% of respondents cited company culture as the reason for abandoning a career in tech. This kind of culture manifests in many different ways and can range from uncomfortable work environments to sexual assault/ harassment.
To achieve inclusivity, organizations must help women feel empowered and heard. To address this, companies can start by setting measurable gender diversity goals, educate around gender bias and sexual harassment, and be transparent with salaries.
An investment in women in STEM is an investment in the future of STEM, and more broadly, an investment in all of us. I am hopeful we will build a future where tech is inclusive and built for all people. In fact, there are some amazing women (and men!) doing the work and paving the way for the future of women of STEM. Check out some opportunities below: