Getting Women Into STEM and Into the C-Suite

March 9, 2015
Former Executive Director, Center for Women in Business

When I discuss the importance of gender diversity in America’s companies, most people enthusiastically agree that we should have more women in leadership roles. They’ll point to numerous studies and respected research showing how more women on corporate boards and in the C-Suite create better returns. And they’ll use glib phrases like “It’s not brain surgery” or “It’s not rocket science.”

But, truthfully, it is.

It is brain surgery because we need more women doctors and health researchers. It is rocket science, because we need more women scientists and engineers. When it comes to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), we actually are talking about critical jobs and how more women are needed to fill them.

Women make up 47% of our workforce and own nearly 30% of all new businesses. Yet progress still needs to be made when it comes to placing women in leadership positions and boosting their representation in the fast-growing high-tech fields.

That’s why I’m eager to tell you about our upcoming summit, The Science of Success, hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Women in Business (CWB).

This fourth annual CWB summit will take place on March 19 at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and will examine the state of women leaders at the helm of U.S. companies. It will pay close attention to STEM fields, which lack proportional female representation in the workforce.

The statistics speak for themselves. STEM jobs make up about half of the labor force, but women fill just a quarter of them. And among Fortune 500 companies, women make up just 14.6% of executive positions and 16.9% of board seats.

Why does this matter? Because gender diversity helps companies succeed. In the Fortune 1000, the best performing companies in terms of gender diversity financially outperform their competition by 64% when women are on top leadership teams and by 80% when women are also on the board. In short, gender diversity helps companies grow and boosts the American economy.

The summit will highlight companies making strides in gender diversity in their workforces, and we’ll hear from women entrepreneurs who have built companies from the ground up using STEM resources.

In addition to hosting The Science of Success summit, CWB will release Reaching the Full Potential of STEM for Women and the U.S. Economy. This new research explores the role of women in STEM fields and offers insights from a survey seeking to identify ways to attract women into STEM.

Please join CWB on March 19 at the summit and read our new research report. And I hope you will remember that when it comes to advancing women in STEM fields, brain surgery and rocket science are exactly what we are talking about. 

Roberta Phillips is the executive director for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Center for Women in Business.