By Marisa Vitamvas, Delivery Manager, Sciences at EASi
Although women have made great strides in the workforce, it is no secret that inequality persists when it comes to jobs. Unfortunately, when it comes to the science, technology, engineering, and math fields where women account for only 28% of employees, this is hardly a new topic of discussion.
Inequality is a problem with long-term origins. With gender disparities manifesting as young as 8 years of age and continuing through higher education, we, as a society, are less likely to give girls STEM toys like chemistry sets, Snap Circuits, or robot kits and tend to think of a young girl who prefers STEM education toys as “different.”
However, the conversation around women in STEM is being reinvigorated in the broader context of social justice, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace. So how can your organization address this issue head-on and build an inclusive culture? Research (and personal experience) suggests three ways to support women — and other underrepresented minorities — in STEM. Here is how your organization can take action to bridge the gap.
Build Visible Steps Towards Inclusivity
Actively prioritizing an inclusive workplace culture is the first step toward closing the gender gap in STEM fields. Clear policies, with transparent internal resolution methods for complaints related to harassment and discrimination, are, of course, essential. But before any structural changes to promoting a more supportive organization can take root, you also need to make cultural adjustments to make your workplace a more welcoming and inclusive environment for women and other underrepresented minorities.
One way of doing this is by building feedback mechanisms that encourage active dialogue with and between various working styles and backgrounds. Another way is to promote an understanding view, and flexible responses to constraints workers face, both in their learning styles and, especially in the aftermath of COVID-19, with regard to complications arising from working from home.
Emphasizing inclusion through proactive and visible steps can have broader implications than building a more equitable environment for women in STEM. All employees benefit from feeling seen and heard as a part of active dialogue.
Promote Mentorship and Engagement
After taking active steps to make your STEM workplace and culture feel more inclusive to your employees, it’s also necessary to address growth and development. This will show your organization’s commitment to active leadership in combating the STEM gender gap.
Mentorship for and by female STEM employees is a great place to start. This can be accomplished not only within your organization through structured mentorship and employee resource groups but also by encouraging female employees to seek networking and leadership development opportunities outside of your organization, such as conference attendance or joining industry-based organizations.
An active and engaged mentorship program gives all employees a pathway to growth and a chance to work out alternative strategies for accomplishing their career goals. Career growth needs to be attainable for various learning styles, personality types, and management structures.
But while mentorship and development programs are great ways to reduce the gender gap for current professionals, they don’t address the root causes of gender disparity in STEM fields. Outreach programs and local partnerships show younger students grappling with the early stages of the gender divide in STEM that there’s room for them in a broad range of professions.
Successful outreach will help diversify the available talent pool in STEM fields and earn your organization a leg up in selecting top employees by elevating your company to “dream job” status in the eyes of aspiring professionals.
Focus on Positive Recognition
Current and potential employees need to “see themselves” represented in your organization. Candidates will do their research by reviewing leadership and subject matter experts and evaluate your organization during the interview process to determine if you’re a good fit for them. Once hired, they will look for mentors who can help them achieve.
Representation is the outward sign of how effectively your organization is working as a change agent in addressing the STEM gender gap. It absolutely matters and forms its own kind of momentum — people will know from looking at you whether you’re moving in the right direction or the wrong one.
As subject matter experts and among various teams, having women in leadership positions makes a big difference, but not every tool for addressing gender representation is equally helpful. For example, some organizations in STEM fields set benchmarks for minority representation at specific organization levels. But as an unintended consequence of these goals, competition between candidates from underrepresented groups can contribute to a less supportive culture that needlessly alienates qualified team members.
That’s why your focus on representation should also include positive recognition for women’s contributions in your organization. Not only is it important to have an inclusive culture, and to grant your female employees the autonomy to pursue mentorship and outreach opportunities, it’s equally important to promote these efforts through official channels. A quick scan of LinkedIn posts by CEOs will reveal who does this well.
The gender gap in STEM fields is about more than addressing underrepresentation. Alarming statistics such as 28% women and 15% minority employment in STEM fields do more than showcase bad optics; they belie a need for more diverse working styles, knowledge, and problem-solving approaches that can hold your company back from achieving a more innovative and responsive operating methodology.
Encouraging more women to enter and succeed in STEM professions is paramount to closing the gender gap and can move your organization into more equitable and innovative territory.
For further insight into how you can position your organization at the forefront of this effort, reach out to your applicable trade organizations, educational and consulting partners, local women in STEM organizations, and employee resource group organizers.
Existing outreach programs and industry initiatives will be glad to have you aboard and happy to engage in meaningful dialogue about how you can address specific concerns around inclusivity.