You might have heard copious success stories of how Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg revolutionised the face of modern STEM industry. But have you heard about the women billion-dollar net worth entrepreneurs? Chances are, the answer is a definite ‘No’.
The unpopularity of pursuing careers in the STEM industry among women graduates is no coincidence. Since when we were a child, realising it or not, society has divided job types into sex and gender. When someone thinks of ‘coding’ or ‘web programming’, most people associate it directly thinking about a group of geek dudes wearing sweatshirts and thick glasses.
On the other hand, when words such as ‘writer’ or ‘child care workers’ are mentioned, pictures of women with feminine trait and warm smile come into minds. A close association between job types and gender is kept alive and perpetuated deep into the roots of society. This phenomenon explains why, from early human stages, it’s apparently taught that there are particular occupations which are traditionally-divided between man and woman.
This perception is carried forward to pass on to generation next and when these kids grow up as adults, they continue seeding this thought. This obviously explains the reasons for imbalanced ratio between men and women in the STEM industry.
Based on findings from UNESCO Institute for Statistics report on Women in Science 2015, women make up for 28.4 percent of total science workforce. Breaking down the statistics further, South and West Asia region holds the lowest percentage of women in science with only 18.9 percent, then followed by East Asia and the Pacific region with 22.6 percent, and Sub-Saharan Africa region with 30.0 percent. Meanwhile, even the highest percentage, held by Central Asia region with 47.1 percent women workforce, do not make up half of the overall STEM workers.
Such low stats indicate towards an urgent call for business leaders to take immediate action addressing the shortage of women in STEM. So how do you attract female talent to join the industry?
See: 8 Popular But Misleading Stereotypes of Women in Power
People are increasingly considering flexibility as a key driver to pursuing long-term fulfilling careers. This is far more important than money they receive from a company. Unlike men, women tend to be more concerned when it comes to family issues. Therefore, if you want to recruit more women in your team, you should offer work flexibility.
For instance, you can arrange compressed work schedule or allow them to work remote, if they have personal priorities to attend immediate life-events such as old parents, sick children, no caretaker for family and so on.
Some women are hesitant to step up for challenges in the STEM industry, owing to the fact that the field is predominantly-occupied by male. Competing with their male counterparts, women are often disadvantaged by biased promotions, when it comes to leadership roles.
Hence, its time HR leaders work towards changing the stigma associated with job roles in STEM, by re-aligning the company’s vision to be more women-friendly and formulating guidelines accordingly.
The truth is, women in STEM might not have much role models from their gender. Therefore, continuous training and development is an effective way to draw potential women to the STEM careers. While women are commonly seen as more ‘calmer’ than men in terms of seeking upward career mobility, you should invest in them.
Provide mentoring and support with assistance along their journey in the company. Being surrounded mostly by men employees, some of them might feel uncomfortable and uneasy to mingle in the team. Therefore, HR leaders should always be ready to lend them a helping hand.
If you want to bring in more women to pursue STEM careers seriously, you should be prepared to provide family-related perks and benefits to make them stay. This is an important strategy to attract and retain your best performers, especially when they have family responsibilities and children.
Be it implementation of a paid parental leave policy in place, or building a child-care centre inside the office, offering vouchers for children’s dental treatment, catering to the kids educational needs by offering support networks, these programs help women return back to work quickly, without compromising on their personal lives and neglecting responsibilities as parent.
The change in approaches and busting myths associated with women in STEM, needs careful thought and lot of hard work realise equalise the gender ratio in the STEM industry.
However, increasing number of women showcasing an inclination to pursue a career in STEM is a positive indicator of a gender diverse workforce in careers, that were once considered a male-dominated industry, now welcoming balanced viewpoints and ideas for growth.
Read also: Gender-Balance at Work: Women-Owned Firms Emerge as a Potent Force for Global Economic Growth