Increasing Diversity in STEM
We can increase diversity in STEM by planting the seed early that STEM is a viable option for diverse kids. When we ask little girls what they want to be when they grow up, do we intentionally include engineers and inventors and scientists as options? When teachers talk about career paths in school, do they show pictures of racially and gender diverse individuals doing STEM work? Do they highlight highly successful women and minorities in STEM?
Barriers to Closing the Gender Gap
Perceptions are a huge barrier. If girls and women don’t think they can pursue STEM careers, they won’t try. Similarly, if girls and women don’t think they’ll be happy and successful in a STEM profession, they won’t consider it.
How the STEM World Is Changing
It is definitely changing for the better. Decision makers are increasingly aware that diverse ways of thinking positively impact the bottom line. Technology is making remote and flexible work a reality. Although progress is slow, more and more women are advancing into positions of authority.
Moving Women Forward in STEM
Make sure that the factors considered for advancement credit the valuable skills that women (statistically) are better at than men, not just the ones that men (statistically) are better at than women. Do not make women toot their own horns to advance their careers—this is notoriously hard for many women. Do away with rigid structures such as required 9-to-5 office hours and face time that disproportionally disadvantage women, who are often primary caregivers.
Women in STEM 5Years Out
Success breeds success. As more women make a name for themselves in STEM, more women will join their ranks. I hope that in five years we will have even more women in STEM-related leadership positions.
My Own STEM Experience
I feel thankful that I have not experienced discrimination or sexism in my career. Perhaps I am just lucky, but I like to think it is a sign that things are improving. Nevertheless, as a woman in a STEM career, I have often been in the minority. For me, the solution has been to work in collaborative environments where, even though the work is demanding, it always feels like a team effort rather than an individual competition. I have found other women and supporters who have gone out of their way to advocate for me, and I try to pay that kindness forward for other women.