Increasing Diversity in STEM Fields

Companies should strictly audit their hiring practices to implement blind evaluations where possible, and consistent evaluations of candidates at the very least. For example, interviewers should choose three questions to ask every interviewee, so that their answers can be directly compared to one another. This helps combat the unintentional bias created when you simply share extracurricular interests with an interviewee, or “click” with them. Too often, this is interpreted as the interviewee being a great fit for the “company culture.” It is an easy trap to fall into that accidentally weeds out diverse candidates. They may not have the same extracurricular interests as their interviewers or the same personality type as the rest of the company. However, it is important to recognize that those differences provide value by helping to create a diverse workforce with a diverse approach to problem solving.

Barriers to Closing the Gender Gap in STEM

We have made great strides in closing the gender gap at an entry level, but still face a significant gap at senior positions. In the legal industry, from my point of view, the gap is due to two main factors. First, the oft-mentioned issue of work/life balance. While flexible work arrangements are becoming more common, many women still struggle to find an acceptable work/life balance if they choose to have children or are otherwise serving as caretakers. Second is the fact that frequently in family dynamics, women are not the sole breadwinner. When both spouses work, the financial pressure is shared. When only one spouse works, that spouse feels the pressure to support his/her family financially by seeking higher paying positions with more responsibility. And when only one spouse works, it is often the man (although of course this is not universal).

These two factors combine to mean that even when entry level positions in an industry begin at 50/50, more women leave than men. And women in senior positions who stay are often juggling family issues and are unable or unwilling to seek additional responsibilities. As a result, there is still a huge disparity between the number of men and women in senior positions, and an even larger disparity in roles that affect the shape and future of a business.

Where I See Women in STEM in Five Years

I think we will continue to remove barriers to entry-level positions, and to increase the number of women who graduate from university with a STEM degree. While the change at senior positions will be slower, I hope that we see more and more women rise to those positions, so that it is no longer unusual, and so there is a clearer road map to that kind of success (at least in broad strokes).