How to get more women working in STEM
Erin Babbey, Partner Relations Manager
If you are new to the topic, STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The STEM fields have become an integral part of education. An increasing number of individuals are recognising its importance in their personal and professional development. The STEM fields include many disciplines, including biochemistry, computer science, nanotechnology and robotics (just to name a few).
STEM education is not just for those who want to be scientists, engineers or doctors. It is argued that STEM also helps facilitate critical thinking, problem solving, creative, and collaborative skills, all of which are seen in other industries. Kristen Smalley, Content Manager of recruitment agency Randstad, writes that, “virtually every industry willing to innovate and adapt will be touched […] by change and growth across all STEM fields”. In other words, if you want to thrive and flourish in today’s job market, you must adapt and accept technology’s emergence and advancement.
But there’s a problem
There is, however, one shortcoming in this field, and it has much to do with the underrepresentation of women. The problem is that women studying STEM are also less likely to enter their industry in the first place.
Darcy W. Hango, Senior Researcher with Insight on Canadian Society, writes a compelling article on the gender differences in STEM fields. While women make up the majority of university graduates, they are underrepresented in STEM. Based on a 2015 study discussed by Janice Gassam in Forbes, only 24 per cent of those employed in STEM occupations in the United States were women. Numbers for women of colour are even more abysmal, with only 2.9 per cent of Black women, 3.6 per cent of Latinas, and 4.8 per cent of Asian women earning STEM degrees. This underrepresentation is not exclusive to the United States or North America. It is mirrored globally.
How can women become more involved?
So why then do fewer women enter STEM programs, and how can women become more involved?
As an example, Gassam cites studies that show that men are typically favoured in science faculties. This bias has been well-established, so next comes the discussion on how to break through it. Gassam infers that “the first step towards making conditions in STEM more equitable for women is recognizing there is a problem and understanding the role of implicit bias”. Once the bias has been acknowledged, more training can be implemented so hiring managers can make more conscious decisions with who they employ.
In 2016, only 16 per cent of women in the American workforce were featured on billboards. Gassam also encourages the public to openly discuss women’s achievements, writing that “textbooks discuss Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin but students are less familiar with women who made important contributions to the STEM field.” She uses Gertrude B. Elion and Maria Goeppert-Mayer as examples of impactful women in the industry.
Finally, Gassam highlights the importance of mentorship, writing that women need is encouragement. An article by Catalyst compiles research including reports from women who have felt isolated in work environments dominated by men. They also reported a lack of sponsors, contributing to their decision to leave the industry. It is Gassam’s belief that organisations should offer more mentoring opportunities so female STEM employees have the chance to connect with other successful women within their field.
What can you, the student do?
Interested in pursuing a career in STEM? Have confidence in your abilities and research your field, finding potential mentors and opportunities to get more involved. Know that you have others on your side. UK organisation WISE exists to help women with their transition into STEM fields by listing available networks for support. Such organisations exist across the globe and are readily accessible to those who search for them. There is also Scwist in Canada, National Girls Collaborative Project in the United States, and companies like INWES that have branches worldwide.