Skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are valuable in today’s world. So it’s concerning that women make up just 28 percent of the STEM workforce globally.
While countless reports have noted this problem, successful women in STEM have set about making sure young women aspiring to STEM careers have a clearer and fairer path. In Kaspersky’s award-winning podcast Fast Forward, I interview women helping STEM workplaces be more welcoming to women, and supporting women, girls and non-binary people to reach for STEM success
I’ve advocated for encouraging and supporting women in STEM for many years, having myself relied on the belief of senior women and supportive men to take my expertise seriously. It seems there’s still a lot of change to happen. Inspiring and supporting women in STEM careers is essential, especially with shifting careers and jobs in the marketplace across the next decade.
Towards more supportive workplaces
Patricia Peck is CEO and founding partner of Peck Advogados, Professor of Digital Law and council member of Brazil’s Data Protection Authority.
Patricia has more than 20 years experience working in a male-led legal environment, with a focus on digital innovation. This led her to examine the scenario for women in STEM.
“I was at our Supreme Court in Brazil to talk about how platforms must be more responsible for our safety, and I was the only woman speaking. For Brazil and South America, it’s new, but very important to have women in tech and cyber.”
Patricia aims to create a culture in her company, Peck Advogados, that helps the next generation of women to flourish. “Our multidisciplinary team is more than 60 percent women. We have a diversity policy, and that’s unusual in law and tech in Latin America.”
For Patricia, attracting more young talent comes down to understanding what they value. “They see that we’ll give them growth opportunities. They want clear roles, transparency and meritocracy, and they want to have a purpose.”
Young women leading the conversation
is an award-winning charity based in London, UK. They run workshops and events for girls, young women and non-binary people aged five to 25, introducing them to role models and careers. These are the words of young women from varied cultural backgrounds now moving into STEM careers.
Angel Pooler, who has been working for three years in web and marketing for STEM activities, feels young women need encouragement to enter STEM fields. “I’ve had to work on my resilience because there are many roadblocks on the way. I’ve learned to acknowledge my limitations, but also my capabilities.”
“At university, it became clear how male-dominated STEM is, and I often felt inadequate. I now appreciate why the drop-off in female graduates happens,” Angel says.
She encourages those at the top to start the ball rolling. “STEM industries and universities must create welcoming atmospheres with equal and transparent salaries. Then, they can do outreach in schools and show female students they’re serious about offering careers in STEM.”
Maeve Stillman studies Biotechnology at University of Manchester, UK. “I don’t feel super at ease in the job market as an incoming graduate. STEM is exciting but also intimidating. I’m trying to channel positivity and come back to my core aims and beliefs: Thinking about what I want to achieve and the difference I want to make.”
Maeve feels inspired by role models. “When I see women high up in companies, it’s motivating and helps mitigate some of the imposter syndrome common for women in STEM.”
Floriane Fidegnon-Edoh is a first-class graduate in manufacturing and mechanical engineering who has worked for three years with consultancies and think tanks. “We need to have dynamic conversations about what it means to be a powerful woman.”
I’ve found myself labeled bossy, disruptive or difficult – that’s the last thing women entering the sector want to hear. Now I’m unapologetically myself in how I speak and the relationships I build. I’m pretty at ease, but it’s taken work.
Floriane Fidegnon-Edoh, manufacturing and mechanical engineering graduate
Floriane advises, “To make STEM more positive for young women, we need to address the gender wage gap. It starts with a culture and ends with the people.”
Kaspersky surveyed some 13,000 women working in tech in 19 countries. Their report found only one in three women said their school, college or university encouraged them to pursue a tech or IT career. Only one in five were encouraged by meeting female role models in their communities, and more than a third felt this lack of visible role models made them wary of entering the sector. Acknowledging the importance of role models, Kaspersky launched Empower Women project where Kaspersky employees share professional and personal experiences working in cybersecurity. “By having a supportive environment and network, young women can broaden their options and role models,” comments Judith Tapia, Sales Manager, Mexico. “It’s important to start eliminating gender roles and stereotypes, including those related to choosing specific careers, from our close social circles at home and school.”
Creating new patterns
Dr. Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, equity and inclusion expert, is CEO of Stemettes and President of the British Science Association. She was one of the youngest to receive a Master’s Degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from University of Oxford, at age 20. Yet she found men often underestimated her as she moved through her career.
Anne-Marie says, “There’s much research into why some men find it tough to accept innovation coming from women in the STEM sector. Many are pattern-matching around what they’ve seen success and innovation look like.” In other words, they’re consciously or unconsciously expecting a tech innovator to resemble a stereotype.
Anne-Marie believes role models are crucial. “We’re finally seeing stories like the 2016 film Hidden Figures about NASA, where women particularly have led instrumental work. As these stories were hidden, many people – not just men – grew up thinking women can’t contribute technically. They can’t imagine a technical woman, let alone one they’d respect or be fine working for.”
She points to how underestimating women could be harming innovation. “Innovation may sometimes arise from problems, perspectives or experiences men don’t recognize.”
I asked Anne-Marie how we can ensure women can confidently follow a career path alongside male colleagues. She said, “We need to listen to and understand women in the STEM sector, those looking to enter and those who’ve left. This means listening to the experiences they’ve had applying for roles, promotion within a role and going into leadership. A first step toward equitable practice is understanding the differences and putting policies in place to address those.”
To avoid unintentionally excluding people, we must intentionally be inclusive and challenge the status quo in our actions.
Dr. Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, CEO, Stemettes
Changing the future
Despite government and corporate reviews, significant news coverage of the gender pay gap and protests over ‘manels‘ (all-male panels) at conferences, there hasn’t been enough change for women in STEM. How can we ensure the future is different?
Anne-Marie says, “Ten years ago, there were two reports a week talking about this problem. I’m hoping in the next 10 years and hopefully faster, we’ll see a move from lip service to action – folks taking on allyship and equitable practice, acting on those pledges and reports.”
Patricia feels governments must play a stronger part. “I believe regulation has a role. Change won’t be widely implemented by choice. Countries should commit to diversity and protect human rights by law, not just ethics and values.”
It’s not always easy for women in STEM to retain confidence and fulfill their potential. Historical and cultural differences worldwide mean every country is at a different stage. Many schemes and networks emerged in the last decade to encourage girls and women to study STEM, start their own businesses and reach leadership.
But globally, female founders of STEM companies receive less than five percent of STEM investment, and in the last 30 years, numbers of women studying engineering have barely increased.
Noushin Shabab, Iranian-born cybersecurity researcher at Kaspersky, says, “While gender parity in IT is still nowhere in sight, we need to understand that both men and women have the same brains in the biological sense, and are equally capable of intellectual work.”
According to Noushin, it’s essential to talk about gender stereotypes early on and encourage girls to take an interest in technology.
Closing the gender gap in STEM isn’t just a matter of right and wrong – it’s good for business. Diverse teams have been shown to widen a company’s customer base.
Many men also believe in equitable practice. Those who acknowledge and speak out about issues women in STEM face can make a huge difference, helping other men reflect inclusive views in the workplace.
Will future equity for women in STEM be held back by lip service? Perhaps regulation is necessary to ensure accountability and action. One thing is certain – the younger generations of STEM women show that innovation is not bound by gender.