STEM Careers: Tackling The Gender Gap

In order to get more women in STEM, schools need to step up with curriculum opportunities and IT companies need to build workforce diversity.

Liesha Lobo

February 11, 2015

3 Min Read
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By 2018, there will be 1.4 million open technology jobs in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics. Yet among science and engineering graduates, men are employed in a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) occupation at twice the rate of women. Those in the technology sector likely aren't surprised.

It's well known that there is a lack of growth in STEM employment among women today. And if people didn’t know it before 2013, Sheryl Sandberg’s book release, the ousting of Whitney Wolfe from Tinder, and the Twitter board controversy all highlighted the problem pretty clearly: It’s still an uphill battle to be female in STEM fields.

The real question is: What can be done to address the problem? As a woman who has proudly chosen a career in the STEM field, I have some thoughts on the topic.

STEM curriculum

The decision to study STEM can begin well before college. Early interest in math and science in elementary and middle school can serve as strong indicators that a student might be interested in a STEM career later on. In fact, higher math achievement is a significant indicator of whether students will enroll in STEM majors.

In a study published in the American Educational Research Journal, male students reported more confidence in their own math skills than female students with comparable achievement. If we work on building a young female student’s assurance in her math skills from within our culture, perhaps we can impact her interest in STEM careers in the future.

Over the course of the past few years, some schools have stepped up to provide coding and programming classes as electives for high school students. While this is a significant step forward, perhaps these classes should be required and made part of the regular school curriculum. We already know that we’re looking at a high-tech future; it’s time to start preparing for it at the entry level. But in doing so, we must be cautious of the “stereotype threat” that can undervalue a female student’s performance in math and science.

The female-friendly workplace

The need to increase the number of women in tech occupations seems to have resonated well with a number of tech giants, such as Google and Amazon. We are increasingly witnessing tech companies making a greater effort to recruit and retain their female employees via total rewards and benefits packages that offer new mothers more flexible work hours, day cares at work, and even the option to work from home.

Companies are also making the move to place more women in leadership positions. According to Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that promotes inclusive workplaces for women, companies with many women on their corporate boards -- especially those with three or more women -- saw a 26 percent boost in return on invested capital. In fact, Microsoft’s Women at Microsoft Employee Resource Group has more than 12,000 female employees worldwide that actively contribute to initiatives on diversity, professional development and networking.

Promoting an understanding of what careers can really be like in STEM will help, too. For example, initiatives like Google’s Made with Code showcase the diverse and creative career routes available today.

Challenging stereotypes

There are hundreds of inspiring initiatives for women in STEM, and things are changing. But we are in just the beginning stages of challenging the stereotypes that prevent women from entering STEM fields.

In order to encourage more women to enter the STEM workforce, schools must think carefully about the opportunities in the curriculum, tech companies must continue to build diversity in the workplace, and women must be confident to lean on each other for advice and support. I personally cannot wait to see what happens when everything comes together. 

About the Author(s)

Liesha Lobo

Delivery Lead at Thomsons Online Benefits

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