What can be done to increase diversity in STEM fields?

Companies and individuals in STEM fields need to go into classrooms, particularly in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas, to talk to children about their jobs. This will introduce children from all backgrounds to different opportunities in STEM fields. If children are exposed to STEM role models who look like them, they will have the confidence to follow in the same path. Personally, I credit a free summer camp sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers at the University of Texas at Austin for introducing and inspiring me to major in biomedical engineering. Without the summer camp, I might not have the STEM-based career I have today.

What barriers do you see to closing the gender gap in STEM?

One of the biggest barriers to closing the gender gap is support for working mothers at home and in the workplace. Gender roles at home are lagging behind labor force trends. Research has shown that women most often are the ones who adjust their schedules and make compromises when the needs of children conflict with work. This has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. If employers do not have family-friendly policies and allow for flexible schedules, working mothers who shoulder childcare duties are forced to reduce their work hours or leave the labor force. This will have a domino effect. With fewer women role models in STEM fields, young women and children will be less interested in STEM.

What can be done to move women forward in STEM?

Organizational culture needs to change to move women forward in STEM. Many women have benefited from great mentors and sponsors. But without a workplace culture of supporting women, different women in the same organization can have inconsistent experiences. Effective culture change is easier said than done. Organizations can start by designating a group of people from different areas of the organization to develop and implement a strategy that makes sense for that organization. It is important to measure and monitor changes to maintain positive momentum and correct course where needed.