Across the country, businesses of all sizes are doubling down on their commitments to more diverse and inclusive hiring practices. This is especially true in industries like the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), where women have been and continue to be underrepresented in the workforce.
During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s13th Annual International Women’s Day Forum, a panel of leaders from a variety of STEM-focused companies and organizations discussed current initiatives to bring more women into the industry. The panelists also shared insights on how companies can begin developing future STEM talent pipelines well in advance, beginning during girls’ educational years.
STEM Companies Must Recognize the Contributions Women Bring to the Industry
According to the 2022 Science and Engineering Indicators, women represented only about 34% of STEM workers in 2019.
“Women make up more than half the population and yet are underrepresented in STEM jobs, especially computer science and engineering — and we know that women of color appear in even lower numbers than white women,” said Ellen Stofan, Ph.D., Under Secretary for Science and Research at Smithsonian Institution.
She added that the lack of women in STEM is not a skills problem.
“This means we are leaving creativity, ingenuity, and problem solvers behind when we leave girls behind,” she said.
STEM Education Should Inspire and Propel Women Into STEM Careers
Beth McQuiston, M.D., R.D., Medical Director for Abbott, said her company is focused on working with the “best and brightest scientists in the world.” To reach this goal, education must start at a young age.
“One of the things that we've done is develop a STEM internship program,” she said. “Our goal is, by the year 2030, [to] have over a hundred thousand minorities [and] underrepresented groups participating in that STEM program.”
So far, the program has found success by helping young women advance from high school to college to careers in science.
“We see the vast majority of these young girls go on to major in STEM programs in college after they've worked with us,” McQuiston added.
The STEM Industry Must Increase Opportunities for Women
According to Fred Tan, Global Head of Social Impact of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, there is no shortage of talent — there is a shortage of opportunities.
“We take a look internally … at what we can do to increase opportunities for all,” Tan said. “There is no one path into a STEM career … We really try to help everyone see that no matter what their interests, there's a pathway into STEM for them.”
For instance, Kathryn D. Karol, SVP of Caterpillar, said her company partners withThe United Nations Foundation on an initiative called Girl Up, which has a membership of over 30,000 girls worldwide that focuses on access to STEM education.
Karol added that her company also works with the Manufacturing Institute and the Heroes MAKE America program, which helps build connections between the military community and the manufacturing industry.
“Part of that program is upskilling, providing that right education for that specific credentialing that they can get to start a second career once they serve in our U.S. military,” she said. “[Creating] programs like that … inspiring the young, but also taking people who have careers and skilling them up even further for the demand for the jobs that are out there in STEM, are definitely ways to pull that together.”
The STEM Industry Needs More Women in Leadership Positions
Amanda Baxter, Industry Affairs Manager for Transurban, stressed the importance of having women in STEM in leadership positions.
“Everyone is looking for leaders that look like them — and how can you model that?” she said. “I really think at Transurban, we've done a really good job. We have a diverse group of women at many levels within the organization. We've also implemented so many mentoring programs to actually provide that modeling to give that exposure.”
“[Making] sure that [women] are supported by their communities to stay in these jobs, we feel, is very important — and mentorship is key there,” added Karol. “The more they see other women, the more they’re able to encourage other women to join in.”