Women in STEM: Barriers and How to Foster Success

As the world economy grows, especially after the Covid pandemic correction, the jobs of the future are highly skill based as automation and artificially intelligent machines will take over many of the current jobs.

As a result, STEM (acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs are growing while qualified applicants are on the decline. Women make up 50 % of the global population; with the dearth in STEM professionals, the solution is loud and clear – we need more women in STEM.

But the current statistics for Women in STEM are disappointing if not alarming. In a recent research published by nonprofit organisation Catalyst, men continue to dominate STEM workforce in many countries. Women accounted for less than 30% of STEM workforce, a percentage that dramatically drops at higher levels, with only 3% at CEO level. Fostering women in STEM and accelerating the change is needed to be done, and that’s how:

First, the number drop starts right at the start of the pipeline. Lack of role models, stereotyping of STEM professions and influence of social norms discourage women from pursuing STEM education. Breaking the stereotype by showcasing more women successfully growing in the STEM fields have proven to increase the number of girls opting for STEM education 3, the educational programme.

Second, while gender stereotyping prevents girls from pursuing STEM degrees, the same applies in hiring decisions. Women typically need to perform thrice better than their male counterparts and navigate pay gaps to advance their career. The sheer amount of effort dissuades several women to switch to non-STEM fields for employment. Job descriptions that are gender neutral, pay equality and merit based hiring are some of the best practices to encourage women in STEM.

Reshma Ramachandran
... is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology Madras and has additional degrees in management & leadership from S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research, India, and IMD Lausanne, Switzerland. Since 2015 she has worked for ABB, the energy and automation technology group with its headquarter in Zurich, Switzerland; since July 2020 she has been Group Vice President of Hitachi ABB Power Grids. She is also founding member of Divershefy Club – an institution which advocates for equal opportunity.

Third, wo­men who enter the STEM workforce face insti­tutional barriers for growth. The pipeline is leakiest at the middle management level where the biological clock is racing against the career clock. Parental leaves, instead of maternity leaves, plays a narrative that is altogether different, together with flexible work arrangements are a great fix for the leaky pipeline.

Fourth, while mentorship has picked up the wind, sponsorship remains a far cry still. In corporates where the decision makers are still men, it’s time to actively sponsor women. Employee resource groups allowing open sharing of issues and harnessing the collective strength of women and allies help women progress and create sense of belonging.

To accelerate the change, it is imperative to accept there is a problem with the current situation and foreseeable trend. In an economy driven by innovation, research has proven that diversity fosters creativity and enhances the financial performance, a clear purpose to foster women in STEM.

Gastkommentar: Reshma Ramachandran

Der Gastkommentar ist in unserer September-Ausgabe 2020 „Women“ erschienen.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

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