Turbonomic Blog

Democratizing STEM: Breaking Down Barriers for Women

Posted by Meghan Shipp on Oct 14, 2019, 12:45:00 PM

Last week, Turbonomic’s employee resource group, DevelopHer, showed their support for the Boston Museum of Science’s inaugural Sci-K. This 5K walk and run was in support of making children’s STEM programming at the museum more accessible and affordable to all – donations went to programs that allow foster families and classrooms to visit the museum for free, encouraging the next generation of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians. Children and adults alike donned their most innovative, STEM-themed costumes – from dinosaurs to astronauts, the enthusiasm for STEM was incredibly energizing.

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Now and Then

On a personal level, I was thrilled when I heard that Turbonomic was forming the DevelopHer group. At its core, DevelopHer is about creating a community to learn from and empower one another – while promoting a culture of inclusion and belonging.

The value of community cannot be understated. When I was in 6th grade, I announced to my parents that I wanted to be a stock trader when I grew up – I created my first email account under the ambitious name of “FutureStockTrader”. Flash forward 10 years later – I’m attending business school and taking Finance and Accounting classes, surrounded by men, and feeling both frustrated and out of place. I don’t think this is an uncommon scenario – when we’re young, our aspirations seem boundless, and unaffected by societal pressures. But what happens when it comes time to follow through on our childhood dreams? How do our experiences in our most formative years shape the career paths we undergo?

Whether it’s Finance, STEM, medicine, or any other male-dominated field, there’s no denying that there are high barriers to entry, as well as ongoing obstacles that are unique to women.

Getting to the Root Cause

The root causes of the gender gap in STEM start early – beginning in elementary and high school, negative stereotypes about girls’ abilities in math have been shown to measurably lower their test performance, as well as aspirations for science and engineering careers over time. The AAUW report, “Why So Few?”, observed that girls hold themselves to a higher standard than boys when it comes to self-assessment in their mathematical capabilities – they believe that they have to be “exceptional” to succeed in male-dominated fields. Even in the face of their good grades and test scores, girls assess their mathematical abilities lower than boys with similar mathematical achievements.

This similar notion continues as women enter the workforce. According to a Hewlett Packard internal report, men will apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications – but often women will only apply if they meet 100% of them.

What Are the Implications?

A common observation is drawn from situations like the one described above – people’s suggested solution is that women should simply have more faith in ourselves. We are inundated with an overly simplistic message: Be more confident!

Similarly to the author of this HBR blog, I’m a bit skeptical when people give that as standalone advice. While we’ve all had bouts of imposter syndrome before, this is not the fundamental reason there are less women in STEM or in leadership roles. The fix isn’t as simple as reading Lean In and power-posing – it’s dismantling systemic bias, while investing in formal structures and policies that create more equitable environments for women (Ex: employee resource groups like DevelopHer, paid family leave, formal mentorship and sponsorship programs, anti-harassment policies, etc). When we blame a lack of confidence, we put the burden back on women to make the case that we are equally as capable and qualified as men to do our job. It’s not a “lack of confidence” that pushes women out of STEM – unequal treatment at work is the leading reason women decide to leave STEM careers, also citing male-dominated work environments, bias, and lack of female role models as other contributing factors.

In Summary…

At the end of the day, not only do we need more women in STEM, but organizations must play a more proactive role in recruitment, promotion, and retention to increase these numbers and ensure that women are successful in their roles. When I asked Turbonomic’s Cloud CTO, Mor Cohen-Tal, what her advice to organizations looking to take a first step in creating a more equitable work environment for women, she advised:

“If there are no women in the room, invite them in. If the women in the room are not leaning in, ask them what they think. Women’s voices are a necessity to the business – numerous studies have shown the positive relationship between diversity and profitability.”

Mor is spot on – a recent McKinsey & Company report found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21% more likely to have financial returns above their respective industry medians (and 33% more likely for those in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity).

As scientists, engineers, and business leaders work to solve the most pressing issues of our time – such as fighting climate change, finding cures for diseases, or designing transformative products and services – we’ll need the brightest and most diverse teams to create solutions that represent everyone.

 

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