3 Ways To Close The Gender Gap In STEM, According To Leading Experts In The Field

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There are few areas where the gender gap is more pronounced than in STEM, which is Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics for the uninitiated. In 2017, there were just 22,340 female graduates in STEM fields in the UK. It's unsurprisingly then, that a 2018 report from WISE, a group which advocates for greater gender parity in the UK industry, found that just 22 percent of people working in these industries are women. WISE’s goals — gender parity in the industry, and 1 million women working in these industries by 2020 — requires us to examine ways to close STEM's gender gap. For International Women’s Day 2019, I canvassed four experts to find out what needs to be done.

First of all, let's be clear: the stakes are incredibly high. "The fourth Industrial Revolution is here and it is essential that female brains, talent and power are behind the wheel of this digital transformation," STEM veteran Gabriela Mueller Mendoza tells me. Now an executive coach and author of How To Be A Smart Woman In STEM, Mendoza adds that "when we add ethnicity to women’s representation in these fields, we see enormous differences."

Reducing bias is a big part of the problem, as is education. "Women have as much of a place in STEM as men do," Karina Larsen, Vice President of Business Development at Honeywell Aerospace explains, so it's vital to get rid of "outdates biases and clichés" that lead many women to think they're not "right" for the industry. But in doing so, it's important to focus attention at the structural level too. "I don’t think it should be just on women to shift the paradigm and culture," Stacey Espinosa, Global Research & Development Senior Manager at Mars Inc. explains. "We need everyone, especially those in positions of leadership, to advocate for the role of women."

For fellow women in STEM, they can advocate by serving as role models and mentors for the younger generation. "By sharing our passion and positive experiences of the STEM industry, we can encourage and inspire more women to consider a career in the field," Anne-Laure Thieullent, Artificial Intelligence and Analytics Group Offer Leader at Capgemini explains. Read on to find out more about what needs to be done to even up the scales in STEM and beyond.

1. Education

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This is not about fixing women — it is about recognising that girls and young women often learn a set of concepts in early years that limit their views of themselves.

“Outdates biases and clichés mean that some women don’t think that careers in STEM are ‘right’ for them, which simply isn’t true. Women have as much of a place in STEM as men do. Schools should educate girls about the great career prospects that there are in STEM, and encourage them to study these subjects.” — Karina Larsen

"This is not about fixing women — it is about recognising that girls and young women often learn a set of concepts in early years that limit their views of themselves and stopping this from happening. Those are related to perfectionism, fear of failure, fear of disappointing someone, low or lack of self-worth and low self-confidence. Research shows that, on average, a girl loses self-confidence in mathematical abilities between the ages of 13-15 years old, when they often outperform boys in similar ages in those fields. This affects career choices later in life. The reality is that once they graduate, a large portion of women with computer science degrees and engineering leave their fields. Girls and young women need to receive sustained efforts and engaging computer-science-related activities right from their early years to provide them with the personal encouragement they need to trust their abilities." — Gabriela Mueller Mendoza

Some women don’t think that careers in STEM are ‘right’ for them, which simply isn’t true.

"It’s encouraging to see there’s a growing recognition of the need for women and diversity in STEM but that is not enough. In addition to helping women and girls believe in themselves, our institutions and systems — money, education, opportunity, support — have to work for all to really deliver change." — Stacey Espinosa

“Outdated biases mean that some parents and teachers unconsciously steer young girls away from STEM. The reality is that STEM subjects are for everybody and lead to rewarding and exciting careers. Teachers should encourage girls to take STEM in school and parents should encourage their daughters to explore these subjects – particularly if they show an interest or talent. There are plenty of ways to have fun with tech as early as possible!” — Anne-Laure Thieullent

2. Diversity

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There is no longer any room for bias in the workplace.

"Leaders need to recognise that the old belief that there is a lack of ambition in women or that women leave because they become mothers is obsolete. It is proven that some of the main reasons why women leave STEM jobs are those that organisational leaders can have a say about and fix: pay gaps, limited opportunities for advancement while integrating work-life demands, being confined to boring tasks or jobs that do not match their talent or academic skills and finally because of hostile corporate cultures. The solution is a continuous and positive effort to educate and train including effective programs by professionals to prepare evaluators, HR recruiters, managers and C-suite members and raise self-awareness as well as showing proactive ways to become part of the solution." — Gabriela Mueller Mendoza

"As a leader in STEM, I know that successful innovation demands diversity. The responsibility is on all of us, men and women, to recognise the importance of inclusivity in what we do and actively create an environment for women to be themselves." — Stacey Espinosa

Successful innovation demands diversity.

“Organisations must also ensure they are doing their best to push for diversity and to stamp out unconscious and conscious biases. Training is important here. The right training can help employees to identify and put an end to unfair behaviour. Initiatives should also be put in place to ensure that organisations are hiring diversely.” — Anne-Laure Thieullent

"Companies must change workplace culture to ensure that women are climbing an equal career leader to their male counterparts, and are given the same opportunities. There is no longer any room for bias in the workplace.” — Karina Larsen

3. Mentorship

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My message is: do what you love and disregard stereotypes.

"Coaching, mentoring and candid conversations help drive progress. I am grateful to have built a circle of mentors throughout my career with vastly diverse personalities and perspectives that have transformed my career by empowering me to make my own way." — Stacey Espinosa

“Executives within STEM can encourage more girls and women to choose STEM careers. By sharing our passion and positive experiences of the STEM industry, we can encourage and inspire more women to consider a career in the field. My message is: do what you love and disregard stereotypes. To be successful, you need to follow your passion and not limit yourself. If you are interested in pursuing a career in STEM, then just go for it!” — Anne-Laure Thieullent