How Can We Retain More Women in STEM Careers?￼￼
Women comprise around 40% of the STEM workforce worldwide, according to UNICEF. It adds that women happen to be well represented in health, but are underrepresented in technology and engineering jobs.
It’s no secret that many girls and young women give the STEM field a pass altogether. One main reason is the stereotype that STEM jobs are for boys and not for girls. But when women enter the STEM workforce, not all of them stick around for all that long.
What sorts of things can be done to ensure that women continue to see STEM careers as worthwhile? Keep reading to see what can be done to make STEM attractive to women.
A previous study shows that mothers who have kids under the age of 18 are three times as likely as fathers to admit that being a working parent made it more difficult for them to pursue career advancement.
Societal, cultural, and religious pressures can make it difficult for many women to focus more on their careers than on their family responsibilities. So, many women feel they have to choose between being good wives and mothers versus focusing on career advancement.
Getting more women not only to remain in STEM but to stick around long enough to climb the corporate ladder is about ensuring that they know work-life balance is possible. And they’ll know that work-life balance is possible when they’re working with the right employers.
Some women delay getting married and starting families due to career demands. Employers should adopt family-friendly policies like compressed work weeks, generous vacation time, and flexible working arrangements. In that case, perhaps more women will see that they don’t have to choose between starting a family and pursuing a STEM career.
Getting engagement rings and wedding rings made from lab diamonds won’t have to be delayed indefinitely if women don’t perceive there’ll be penalties for taking time out to start families.
What follows is a look at some strategies women can take to achieve a good work-life balance:
Prioritize “Me” Time
Self-care is not selfish–it’s self-preservation. In other words, women need to make time to take care of their physical, mental, and psychological needs if they’re to shoulder all of life’s responsibilities. This means doing, among other things, the following:
- Get enough sleep
- Exercise and stay in shape
- Ask for help when it’s needed
- Eat healthy meals and stay hydrated
It’s important to know how to set boundaries at work and at home. Women should, for instance, do the following:
- Know when to shut down for the day
- Inform employers and co-workers of their availability outside of work hours
- Turn off mobile device notifications after the work day
- Set aside uninterrupted time to spend with family and friends
When it comes to ensuring that more women remain in STEM fields, it’s hard to overestimate the importance of women mentors. Women in STEM need to see examples of other women in the field who’ve climbed the corporate ladder. The mentor-mentee relationship can be a powerful tool that helps keep more women in the STEM workforce.
One problem is there are fewer women than men in STEM fields, so women will have a harder time finding mentors. Proactive companies will, therefore, need to consider starting mentorship programs for women in STEM occupations and address imbalances of representation in leadership. Consider the following general steps:
1) Develop Programs: Companies need to develop programs that connect people, boost skill sets and knowledge bases, increase retention rates, and ultimately create talent pools of future leaders. Companies need to know what they’re hoping to achieve before proceeding.
2) Find Participants: The next step is to find participants. Businesses need to identify experienced and inexperienced female STEM employees. After explaining to both groups the benefits and goals of the mentorship programs, the next step is to encourage participation. Participation should by no means be forced. But it should be encouraged.
3) Connect Mentors and Mentees: Once companies find participants, they should have these participants fill out forms that will help with pairing up mentors and mentees. Finding good professional matches is important if mentors and mentees are to make the most of the programs.
4) Check-In: It’s also important for businesses to check in periodically to get feedback from mentorship program participants. If there are any issues, they can be addressed asap.
5) Gauge Success: Businesses will also want to measure success to determine how their mentorship programs are doing. One way to get feedback is to have participants fill out forms. Another way is to schedule face-to-face meetings between executives and participants.
Workplace Environment Adjustment
Another reason many women don’t stick around in the STEM space because their workplaces tend to be toxic. Some women report problems like bullying, sexual harassment, and other challenges that can jeopardize their personal and career growth.
When women see other women leaving the industry because of the policies and attitudes that work against them, they may question whether it makes sense to stick around. The Great Resignation that saw a lot of workers across many industries quit their jobs last year was profound. One of the reasons these workers submitted their letter of resignation was a lack of opportunities. Here’s a look at some things businesses can do to make workplaces more equitable:
1) Adopt a DEI Strategy: Businesses must commit to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). It needs to be a top-down strategy spearheaded and exhibited by management and adopted and carried out by the workforce.
2) Create a Corporate Culture of Respect and Fairness: It’s also critical for businesses to strive for the right corporate culture. When they strive for respect and fairness, women and men will be in constructive rather than destructive environments.
3) Find and Break Down Barriers: Businesses also need to find and break down barriers. Since barriers adversely impact women, those barriers need to be acknowledged and dismantled. It might help to establish diversity committees tasked with developing strategies and policies that address problems women face in STEM positions. These committees can then recommend policies to achieve these objectives.
4) Create Policies: The next step is for companies to implement meaningful policies to make workplaces fairer for all executives and employees. Policies will focus on hiring and promotion practices, flexible work options, etc. It’s also important to stipulate penalties for those who disregard the policies. Rules will amount to little if there’s no accountability. In line with holding employees accountable, businesses need to schedule ongoing training to mitigate unconscious bias in the workplace.
Discussions about women in STEM have been ongoing for decades. Getting women to enter the industry is one thing–but encouraging them to stay is another thing entirely. There has been progress, but still, there are more conversations to be had, and more work to be done.