Barriers to Closing the Gender Gap in STEM

Opportunity and due consideration are among the gatekeepers for closing the gender gap in STEM. Decision-makers need to continue increasing the diversity of the candidate pool in order to both attract and retain more diverse talent. Internal promotion can be a particularly black box process as information about a typical opportunity—from the application process to timing and qualifications—may not be published, so potential candidates are not able to advocate for themselves and will require sponsorship from someone “in the room” to put them forward. If organizations are not actively monitoring for potential/unintentional biases, these advancement processes may continue to marginalize women.

Moving Women Forward in STEM

In order to create a more inclusive work environment, individuals in positions of authority (men and women alike) should raise their voices on behalf of more junior women and bring them into the conversation. These interventions may be indirect, such as recommending them for internal and external profile-raising opportunities, or direct, such as asking them to speak during meetings and purposefully attributing and amplifying their comments. Given the historical disparity in representation at senior levels, we should also not be preoccupied with titles and set thresholds for potential contributors or participants on such a basis. Rather, we should aim to actively foster an environment that embraces each individual’s unique background, experience, and perspective, and by actively highlighting underrepresented views and aim to create more opportunities to promote such ideas, as well as the individuals offering them.

Where I See Women in STEM in Five Years

I hope to see fewer references to the “first” and “only” woman, and greater references to “mostly” and “many” women. This change is beginning to happen as mentorship and development programs implemented across industries empower women to succeed in traditionally male-dominated, homogenous workplaces. At Dechert, for example, I am a local woman liaison for the Global Women’s Initiative. I help identify and implement initiatives that promote opportunities for women lawyers navigating the path to partnership and other senior legal positions. Mentorship and development programs like these help women in STEM prepare for the leadership positions of tomorrow, fostering an environment in which references to women as “first” and “only” will, hopefully, be rendered relics of the past.