In terms of addressing the gap in STEM, it sounds obvious, but it’s all about diversity. Statistics show that there is not a lack of interest in STEM from young women at school and, although the numbers drop at graduate level, they are still significant. In fact, many young women even begin their career in STEM.
The biggest challenge is that many leave the sector because they are not shown a path to success and the culture does not understand the importance of highlighting this path.
Show girls and young women that they can be successful in STEM and they will aspire to being a part of that world. Show them positive female role models (or even just role models who don’t fit the typical “brogrammer” versus “nerd” stereotype) and they will want to be that person. Show them that there are many, many different career paths within STEM and they will explore. Show them the impact that they can have on the world through a STEM career and they will want to be a part of it.
We know there are many successful women in STEM leadership roles—while it may not come naturally to some of them, we must ask them to step up and show us all how they did it. The stories they tell may not be pretty—undoubtedly many of them had to learn how to thrive in an environment that did not encourage their success—but by talking openly about what they achieved, they will encourage others to follow in their path.
Frequently in my role, when we talk to clients about their desire to fill a new senior-level position, there isn’t a great level of existing diversity, but there is a desire to change that. We don’t need to tell potential candidates a “perfect story,” but we do need to be honest and open, to present the challenges as well as the opportunities.
There is little value in “pinkifying” STEM, an apparent trend in current promotional campaigns, when the reality is different. Don’t tell these young women that hundreds have gone before them if that isn’t the case. Instead tell them that they will be part of a “revolution” and while they may have a cultural fight on their hands, they can succeed if they grasp the challenge. My guess is that many will step up.