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Women in STEM: What does the future hold?

In a world where inclusion and diversity are becoming more and more critical, the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) industry definitely has some work to do. How do I know? The numbers speak for themselves. Although the number of women in STEM board positions rose by 18% in 2020, women only make up 29% of the STEM labor force, and among industry CEOs, only 3% are women. So why the unequal representation in the industry? There are plenty of young women pursuing a STEM education in college today, so it’s not for lack of overall interest. For many women, after college is when the challenges start. When considering the first step in your post-collegiate career, many women face roadblocks due to three main factors:

  1. Low confidence
  2. Lack of mentorship
  3. Understanding salaries & compensation packages

Entering a male-dominated workforce can easily shake your confidence as a newcomer, even more so if you’re the only or one of a few women on a team. Many women also know that there’s a good chance they will be underestimated in their abilities overall, or worry that their work will be overly scrutinized. This type of worry can take a toll on an individual’s confidence and may dissuade them from choosing a particular career. In my experience, the best way to gain confidence is to ensure you are fully prepared (in any scenario) with the right expectations set. This leads to another huge challenge that women face — a lack of mentorship to help them get there.

Having a mentor you can go to for guidance, advice, career questions, or if you’re just feeling lost can have a massive impact on your confidence and preparedness. Overall, a mentor will hold you accountable and help you address challenges along the way. They’ll help you set expectations and provide insight from their own experiences. Your mentor can be virtually anyone: a professor, friend or family member, a professional you’re connected with through social media, alumni from school, or even a community like the one we have built here at Arcanium. Having a solid support system can help someone jump headfirst into a new experience and conquer any fear. I believe mentorship is a critical step for women to be successful in a STEM career.

Finally, salary is a subject that is rarely talked about but needs to be. When you are first entering the workforce, you’ve likely received mixed feedback on what your compensation should be dollarwise and what it should entail. So often, women worry about asking questions and will take whatever the job offers. There is a stigma when it comes to women asking for more money. Many women feel uncomfortable talking about money or asking for a salary that works for them. There are websites out there that provide useful tools to break down salary expectations for different jobs. Some even break down specific companies & detail benefits packages for comparison. Salaries for men in STEM are nearly $15,000 higher per year than for women. The gender pay gap isn’t a new issue, but it needs to be repeatedly examined to ensure women stay in STEM for the long haul. Doing your own independent research, surrounding yourself with other women in the industry, and having open conversations about salaries and benefits, in general, will all prove meaningful to help you confidently reach the compensation level you deserve.

These three factors aren’t the only reason women are less represented in STEM. Gender discrimination is another career obstacle women face. Having a more diverse culture will not only help bridge the gap, but it will also allow for a wide range of benefits in the industry. If all areas of STEM would recruit, support, and sustain women in STEM careers, there would be an increase in productivity and solutions to problems. This wouldn’t happen because women are more productive or more intelligent than men. This would occur because when you have a diverse group of people, you open your team up to different ways of thinking, viewpoints, and solutions to problems. Diversity makes STEM better by allowing greater potential for new discoveries through alternative perspectives.

What policies or programs can be put in place to increase women in STEM careers? Although there have been great strides in this area, efforts are starting to fall flat. Education and training are fast, effective ways to help close the gender gap. Having a robust mentoring program that can provide women with advice and guidance can help women feel more connected and less isolated. When there is a committee of any kind, making sure it includes a diverse group of decision-makers is important. This will ensure viewpoints from all sides are considered.

Women can and have made a considerable impact on the STEM field over the years. Nancy Grace Roman is the “Mother of the Hubble Telescope,” Radia Perlman was an internet pioneer, Adriana Ocampo was a planetary geologist, and Ginni Rometty has been CEO of IBM since 2012. At Arcanium, we are pleased and thrilled that we have a female founder. We want to support women in STEM through community and opportunity. Contact us today to learn more, we’d love to meet you!

-Sarah Mitchell-