Stemming The Tide: Working To Recruit and Keep Women Leaders in STEM

Achieving gender parity in STEM begins with encouraging more girls to enter STEM fields, then retain women throughout their tech careers.

Achieving gender parity in STEM begins with encouraging more girls to enter STEM fields, then retain women throughout their tech careers.

Melinda Gates is on it. And that is a good thing.

As the philanthropic billionaire and co-founder of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates can also add to her influence and investments the efforts of many other entreprenuers, organizations, business leaders, schools and foundations nationally and globally in the movement to keep women leaders in the STEM fields.

According to Geekwire, as the founder of  Pivotal Ventures, Gates “was expected to further her work on gender inequity and women’s empowerment,” and indeed began narrowing her focus to get more women in tech and to maintain more women leaders in the STEM fields.

“Every company needs technology, and yet we’re graduating fewer women technologists. That is not good for society. We have to change it,” Gates reportedly said.

Gates outlined the immediate goals to help increase and maintain the retention of women leaders in STEM. According to Geekwire, these are:

  • “The ‘leaky pipeline’ that causes girls and young women to lose interest in and abandon a STEM education.

  • The correlation between whether the rise of a male-centric gaming industry caused women to drop out of computer science pursuits.

  • The need to present girls with effective women-in-tech role models.

  • The need to finance the collection of data illustrating the problem.

  • Artificial intelligence and making sure the needs of women are part of the conversation.

  • Solid family leave policies at federal, state, and private-sector level.”

In a new release from Accenture, Sunny Webb, senior principal of Accenture Technology, San Francisco, writes, “Today we’re at the confluence of two historic moments: Unparalleled access to STEM education through things like Code.orgKhan Academy, or Girls Who Code, and multiple successful women role models who show women are and can be successful in technology.”

Webb adds, “It’s really important to have women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields because women bring a balance and a unique perspective to a team. “ Girls Who Code “has a very ambitious goal of educating 1 million girls by 2020 to learn how to code. There’s such a large gap in the number of young females who are in computer science. By teaching girls how to code, we can teach them that they can become engaged in that type of activity going forward in their career.”

Adding to this push at the middle school and high school levels, there is encouraging news for young women entering STEM education at the college level.

There is encouraging news for young women entering STEM education at the college level #taketheleadwomen

According to Texas A & M, “Since 1980, the percentage of women in the engineering field has increased by 8.2 percent, according to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, resulting in an increase of female students enrolling in A&M’s STEM program.”

Katherine Banks, vice chancellor of engineering and dean at the A&M College of Engineering, noted that “although there has been an increase in women in engineering, the United States is still behind the global movement by about 20 percent.” Banks said, “The increasing number of women in engineering at A&M is having a worldwide impact,” according to the Battalion.

“In some ways, other countries don’t have the same challenge,” Banks said. “In the world there are countries that have about 40 percent of women in engineering. This is a cultural challenge in the United States and a few other countries, not necessarily worldwide. So for us to have more women in STEM means we are changing the culture; we are supportive of women in non-traditional fields.”

Many large employers are taking up the cause, including Sodexo, which employs 133,000 people globally, according to Gerri Mason Hall, SVP & Chief Human Resources Officer, Sodexo North America, writing in Just Means.

“However, with the U.S. ranked 20th in science and 27th in math by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, it is clear that America is lagging behind other international markets in developing a workforce that can fulfill the burgeoning demand for STEM-related jobs,” Hall writes. .

“In 2013, Sodexo entered into a partnership with STEMconnector – which is a consortium of companies, nonprofit associations and professional societies, STEM-related research and policy organizations, government entities, and academic institutions concerned with STEM education and the future of human capital in the United States – to help fulfill this commitment.”

Wal-Mart was recently honored at the Million Women Mentors Summit in Washington, D.C., for efforts to “promote opportunities for girls and young women in STEM,” according to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Wal-Mart’s vice president of technology, Rita Carney, told a panel that “women are underrepresented in those career fields. Though they make up roughly half of the workforce, women hold only one-quarter of all STEM jobs.” She added, “Jobs in those four fields pay better than many other careers, and the gap between women’s pay and men’s pay is smaller.”

According to the Gazette, Wal-Mart’s national program since January 2014,” has recruited 850,000 mentors and will top 1 million by the end of this year.”

Fortune 500 companies, including General Motors, Johnson & Johnson, Lockheed Martin, Intel and PepsiCo are also spearheading mentorship programs for women in STEM careers, according to the Gazette. The goal is to increase and retain the numbers of women leaders in the fields.

Fortune 500 companies are spearheading mentorship programs for women in STEM careers #taketheleadwomen

“Sheila Boyington, national states chairman of Million Women Mentors, said, ‘Getting more girls and women in STEM is extremely important. It’s an economic equation, not only for the state of Arkansas but really for the country and the world.’”

The push for gender parity in STEM is not just domestic, but global.

“Tech London Advocates found that the U.K. tech industry—like that in the U.S.—still has work to do to make its workforce represent the population as a whole,” writes Laura Cohn in Fortune.

Cohn writes: “The survey found that women, young people and minorities are underrepresented in tech.”

Some result highlights Cohn reports:

  • Nearly a third of the tech firms surveyed were between 50 percent and 75 percent female.

  • 40 percent percent of the 263 companies surveyed have a workforce that is between 25 percent and 50 percent female.

  • 18 percent of the firms said their offices were 25 percent or less female

  • 2 percent employed no women at all.

In the United States, Cohn writes, “Apple’s latest diversity report, released in August, showed that 62 percent of global employees at the manager level and above are male, the same proportion as last year. Likewise, Alphabet’s Google recently reported it increased the number of black, Latino and female employees in the U.S. but has yet to meet its intention of having its workforce mirror the population. And just 27 percent of Facebook’s senior workforce is made up of women.”

The growing awareness of the need to recruit and retain women in STEM and augment women leaders in STEM, the collaboration between foundations, educational institutions, corporations and organizations may all work together to make gender parity possible in these fields.

As Hal of Sodexo writes, “We see that women are excelling in STEM careers. However, currently, only one out of four women work in a STEM field. Sodexo, as an organization that is devoted to gender diversity, believes it’s essential to get more women interested in STEM.  By doing so, we’ll increase the talent pool of employees that can fulfill STEM jobs. This will also help to help close the gender pay gap. The White House reports that, ‘Women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than those in non-STEM occupations and experience a smaller wage gap relative to men.’”

Closing the gender pay gap in all fields is the goal of Take The Lead by 2025.

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon