The relatively low number of women in STEM careers is an issue that would seem to primarily affect women. In reality, not only does it impact women, it is an issue that impacts business and the whole economy.
Women are underrepresented in science and engineering jobs. Women make up 47 percent of the overall workforce but hold only 28 percent of the STEM jobs and 12 percent of engineering jobs.
Many business leaders understand the effects this gender imbalance can create. The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Survey showed that 42 percent of business leaders believed it was important to address equal gender representation in jobs as a matter of fairness. But more than 20 percent of business leaders also recognize the impact gender imbalance can have on their business success. Women make up a large portion of the customer base and control 65 percent of global household spending. Businesses that recognize the influence of women in the marketplace understand that a diverse workforce will be able to meet the needs of a diverse customer base and be profitable.
Sage Group vice president of AI, Kriti Sharma, uses artificial intelligence as an example. She says women engineers are rare in the talent pool that is creating artificial intelligence. If we want to reap the best benefits of technology such as AI, it needs to reflect the diversity of its users. This is one area where it is vitally important to have a diverse workforce that includes women. Not everyone thinks, lives and works the same, she says. It’s important to capture as many perspectives as possible. “Bias is our greatest threat and will only slow progress.”
Increasing the number of women in STEM jobs will also help address a predicted shortage STEM workers. In less than 10 years the US will need 1.7 million more engineers and computer scientists. Increasing the number of women in STEM jobs will help address this shortage as well as bring new perspectives that can result in increased creativity and productivity.
One reason for the shortage of women in STEM careers is that they are underrepresented in higher education achievement in STEM fields. Women earn 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, but far less than that in STEM. Men earn 81 percent of engineering degrees while women earn 19 percent. Men earn 82 percent of computer science degrees and women earn 18 percent.
There are several factors than have influenced women in their STEM education:
• 63 percent of women in STEM struggled with confidence
• 48 percent said being a woman made their experience harder
• 46 percent considered switching fields during college.
• Lack of female role models and negative stereotypes
Providing role models for women in STEM jobs is something businesses can do to take the lead in bringing more women into STEM jobs. Businesses can make an effort to hire and retain women at all levels of their workforce, says Christianne M. Corbette, senior researcher at American Association of University Women. “Girls and women have to be able to relate to these other woman as role models and mentors. Positioning female ‘superstars’ might look and sound good, but it doesn’t do much to impact technical biases,” Corbett says.
A tuition assistance program presents an opportunity for women to mentor co-workers. Through mentorship, women in STEM jobs have the opportunity to network and be resources for each other. Mentors can help women increase their confidence and persist in their STEM education, and they can also help women in STEM jobs see opportunities for career growth and development.
A tuition assistance program that supports women in STEM and leads to their success is a great advantage for women and the businesses they work for. “The right resources and opportunities help to ensure that young women feel a sense of belonging in the field and that they receive the support they need to follow through to graduation. Ultimately, this benefits us all, as technology and other STEM fields continue to play a critical role in shaping our future,” says Althea Noonan, VP of the Central Region of CDW-G.
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