Increasing Diversity in STEM

Start with looking at recruiting practices. Do the prerequisites for the position narrow the talent pool unnecessarily? Does the job posting include language that is geared toward one type of candidate over others? Does the short list include a diverse set of candidates? If not, don’t accept that “there are no diverse candidates.” Challenge the recruiter or team to look at alternative networks to source diverse candidates. And finally, a thoughtful explanation if a diverse candidate is not selected for the position should be provided by the hiring manager as part of the recruiting process. Implementing these actions can have a big impact on increasing diversity in STEM fields.

Closing the STEM Gender Gap

For many young girls growing up today in North America, there is no shortage of careers they can dream about pursuing. The situation is a lot better than when I was young. I remember checking the boxes of pre-populated options that were very much stereotypical roles for females in the early eighties: nurse, flight attendant, etc. Unfortunately, even today there are still far too many girls who are ruling out careers in STEM fields. There is still the perception that scientists and mathematicians are men with crazy hair wearing white coats. These stereotypes are perpetuated in children’s books and cartoons, which does nothing to close the gender gap in these fields.

Also, more often than boys, I hear girls say that they aren’t “good” at math. Once children decide, or are told, they are not “good” at a STEM subject, they may distance themselves from it and place their focus somewhere else. This essentially closes the door on a career in a STEM field. Parents, educators, and the media need to reinforce the message that there are many great career options for girls in STEM fields.

Moving STEM Women Forward

An organization’s strategic priorities should include a goal of achieving a higher level of female representation. It is a signal to staff that leadership believes that gender diversity in STEM is important. Incorporating a goal of reaching and maintaining a certain percentage of women at all levels of the organization will ensure that STEM women have the opportunity to advance. This commitment would mean fewer gender gaps when recruiting for talent, in rates of promotions, in retaining key talent, and developing succession plans. It is also important that there be both sponsors and allies—of both genders—within the organization to help women move forward in STEM.