Women In Stem: Role Models Needed

            When we fail to include women in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, we are lacking the perspectives of nearly half the world’s populationWomen have been behind countless discoveries such as the conservation of parity principle, identifying Chromosome 17, or winning the Nobel prize “for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus.”. Universities, employers, and institutions must avoid increasing women enrolled in this industry to simply claim equity, as the issue goes deeper than disproportionate numbers. While there are several issues that may lead to lack of female involvement in STEM, an impactful solution is female leadership.

            When you have an inspiring female leader, it creates a space where other women feel safe and welcomed. That momentum builds on itself; looking at our team at Parlay, we can count a total team size of 9 people, including founders, employees, and contractors; and only two of these people are male. Being a startup with a female founder, we wind up attracting and retaining women partially because there are female role models in place.

“The lack of female involvement is not just a pipeline problem. As an industry, we of course need to help build the pipeline, but we must make our culture welcoming to women and minorities. If you lose too many people along the way, it doesn’t matter how robust your candidate pipeline is,” says our co-founder Rebecca Deutsch. Creating a workspace where the input from women and minorities is not only heard but encouraged, creating an open and transparent work space, we are given the ability to connect, collaborate, empathize, and communicate. These qualities are what push companies forward in the 21st century; women in leadership roles set up organizations for success.When it comes down to it, men and women see the world differentl, regardless of how even we make the playing fields. We should care about the representation for women in these fields for this reason; a male-centric view of science is just that, and how can we expect all voices to be heard when half of them are missing? This may not have been a conscious indifference to input from women, after all it’s difficult to see the status quo when you are the status quo. Although women are statistically underrepresented in STEM leadership, not all STEM fields are lacking female influence. For instance, women earn more than half of the degrees awarded in chemistry and math, yet these fields are still considered “male-dominated” (Mellem).

If women earn more than half of the degrees in these fields, why aren’t we seeing more female influence in the working world of STEM? It may be the result of multiple barriers many women face when attempting to begin their careers. “It can feel like you’re fighting against this ‘believability’ factor,” says Kathleen Vignos, Senior Engineering Manager at Twitter, in an interview with Wired.com. With twenty years of experience in an engineering field, Vignos addresses the blatant sexism and doubt women encounter within their fields. Women divulged on the great disparity they face working on their teams, often as the only female present; “constantly needing to reaffirm their skills and knowledge. They see few role models or paths for advancement.”

With the percentage of female engineers growing by only 7% since 1980, it’s difficult for women to get involved when 88% of their coworkers look, think, and operate differently than they do (according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). In the same interview with WIRED, Erica Baker, a Build and Release Engineer with Slack, discusses that although many companies track diversity, “we don’t really talk much about the inclusion part. What are you doing to make sure that everybody is included and feels safe…and supported and valued in your organization?”

 “Women and girls need help in overcoming the barriers: the raised eyebrows; the isolation of being the only female in the class or office; the double standards in applying for jobs or research grants,” (Inc.com). So what strides are universities, companies, and individuals making to resolve this issue? The San Diego Science Alliance began the BE WiSE program, informing and inspiring young girls to explore options in STEM careers. Author Sam Maggs also wrote an insightful book Wonder Women; striving to give young women role models in a variety of careers within STEM, with careful inclusion of women from all backgrounds and races across history. Addressing common obstacles, this book covers a wide range of topics to effectively inspire women to pursue not only their dream careers, but also recognition for the work they do.

There are undoubtedly many systemic problems that we face in STEM fields. We must continue developing opportunities to de-gender careers and education paths; making all careers more accessible to all genders. Creating an environment that enables women to be heard equally in our organizations, universities, and electorate improves us holistically. It will improve society and enable us to listen to other important voices in all fields. Here are Parlay, we practice what we preach: diversity in leadership breeds innovation