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What Will It Take to Recruit More Women to STEM Careers?

Female Executives, STEM, Technology...

Did you know that less than 30% of STEM positions worldwide, are held by women?  In our current global business environment, with the fast pace evolution and digital transformation of business, the future success of organizations depends on recruiting as much technology talent as possible. And yet, women are still underrepresented in this high-growth sector.

What is more concerning is that a recent report states that more than 50% of women leave their career within the STEM sector after ten years.  It is not because there are no available opportunities, but the problem lies with how women are both recruited into technology roles, and how they are supported once they have started their career.

What are some of the practical challenges that women in the STEM sector encounter, that discourages their progress and tenure?  How actively do corporations and businesses address gender parity in technology roles?  In this article, we’ll look at some of the underlying issues and what organizations can do to foster a new culture model and hiring strategy to recruit and retain valuable female professionals into STEM roles.

Balancing Family Life and Demanding Technology Careers

A new study conducted by Erin Cech, a sociologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and Mary Blair-Loy, the founding director of the Center for Research on Gender in the Professions (University of California, San Diego) tracked women in STEM over an eight-year period in the United States.   And the finger is pointed toward corporate culture in STEM organizations, that do not allow for the flexibility that new parents require.

The study revealed that within 4-7 years after the birth or addition of an adopted child to the family, more than 43% of women left their STEM roles.  In the same sample, only 23% of men (who were new fathers during that period) resigned from their career roles.

One of the reasons cited was the disparity in parental responsibility.  Traditionally, women have faced societal pressures to conduct more of the childcare activities than fathers.  Balancing the demands of a career in technology where constant development and continuous learning is required, with societal expectations of women to manage and fulfill activities of the home, prove to be an excessive burden on female professionals.   

They may not leave the workforce, but a large number of them downshift into other sectors or careers that are less challenging, to offset the increased and disproportionate responsibilities placed on them at home.  However, given the high level of attrition for fathers who leave a career in STEM shortly after the arrival of their first child, it is also clear that the demands of a career in technology have an impact on both male and female parents.  The sector itself, is not particularly friendly to family life, and that is evident in the statistical data.

The study also evaluated the impact of women who move from full-time STEM roles to part-time work within the sector.  The result is a substantial decrease in remuneration in most cases, with only a slight reduction in workload and responsibilities.  Since full-time STEM employment is not manageable for some female professionals with a new family, and part-time work does not free up more time or provide the flexibility they require for family needs, they are driven to pursue other occupations in less demanding sectors, to balance their obligations with income needs. And once they depart the STEM sector, with the rapidly changing technology, it is difficult if not impossible to re-enter a few years down the road, without significant retraining, which presents another time and financial obstacle for female professionals.

In an era where all organizations are struggling to recruit more STEM talent in an increasing technology drive global business environment, making changes that address family and lifestyle needs can both encourage the recruitment of more female professionals into STEM careers, while improving retention rates.

Important reading and research for businesses who are addressing the gender gap in technology professions, is a new report published by Deloitte Insights, “Diversity and Inclusion: The Reality Gap (2017 Global Human Capital Trends).  The progress within the technology sector is encouraging, as businesses work to narrow and eventually close the gender gap and access talent.

  • The number of executives who reported inclusion as a top priority for their organization has increased 32% compared to an earlier 2014 study.
  • 69% of executives rate diversity and inclusion as a critical issue (an increase from only 59% in 2014).
  • 38% of executives indicated that the sponsor or leader of the organization’s diversity and inclusion programs and efforts, was the CEO.

We would like to hear from our blog readers.  If you are a professional in the STEM sector, have you encountered some of the same challenges?  What advice would you give men and women who are training now to enter a career in STEM? 

Share a comment with us below.