According to the Harvard Business Review, STEM degrees are among the most lucrative post-graduation but the gender disparity of students obtaining these degrees sees that it’s about 60% male and 40% female. These numbers are even closer when PhD level degrees are considered. As career trajectories progress, as few as 15% of those talented women remain in the field by the time careers reach leadership levels.
This drop in retention can be blamed on a myriad of things, be it sexism in the STEM field or the inherent bias towards men when it comes to the pay, promotion, and prestige in the field. The loss of female talent in STEM has a dramatic effect on research and innovation, including the potential to neglect female consumers due to their underrepresentation in the ‘room where it happens.’
The Harvard Business Review, in consult with leading women in the university sector, have developed three steps to take in order to set up women for success in STEM.
Set up Women for Success Early On
Many companies and industries implement leadership development programs in order to help educate and train tomorrow’s innovators, today. Rather than creating an organizational charter that outlines equitable practices, Harvard Business Review recommends creating an individualized system that supports and grooms talented women for success beginning by identifying aspiring female leaders early in their careers and matching these individuals with coaches. These coaches would, ideally, have expertise in different areas of business (leadership, management, gender, organizational behavior, and even politics) so that the student, in this case a young female professional at the beginning of her leadership development program, can influence gender equity across the organization.
The second step recommended by HBR after identifying and matching future leaders with coaches is to build an entire team around that individual. With access to sponsors, mentors, and subject matter experts, that woman can build her network and prepare to lead. “Getting women to the next level should not be up to luck or change,” said the HBR. “It requires major professional intervention and support.”
Use Input from the Tribe
Are you familiar with the phrase “it takes a village?” It doesn’t refer to just raising children with the help of others. Most work in STEM fields relies on teamwork; for example, in almost any research paper you will see a barrage of names, each of whom contributed in one way or another to the outcome. Developing a skilled team requires soft skills that help to build team loyalty. Collaborative and consultative leadership that leads to successful teams draws on the kind of leadership where women often excel.
Using input from the ‘tribe’ by getting them involved in decisions about development opportunities and promotion will play to women’s established strengths and showcase individual talents. A tribe can also help women directly with self-promotion, as this area is one where women generally struggle with creating images of power and identity. Developing a narrative of power and capability can be difficult for women due to a predisposition to use the phrase ‘we’ instead of ‘I.’ Slight language preferences can be the deciding factor in promotions, raises, and evaluations. When a team or a tribe is able to advocate for a woman and her skills, others have the opportunity to help ‘sell’ the individual.
Promote on Trust
When hiring decisions are made, it is based on qualifications. Once a new employee begins, there’s a mutual contract of trust between the employer and employee that the job will be completed and completed well. When it comes to promotion and annual reviews, trust is replaced by metrics and measure that focus on proving one’s merit, leaving women and other minorities at a disadvantage due to factors like unconscious bias. When facing an opportunity to promote, continue to reciprocate trust. Building a promotion process based on trust affirms the contractual relationship between employee and employer while setting and maintaining conditions for high achievement. Adjust promotion requirements from jumping over obstacles to having mutual trust and an understanding of continued high performance.
When reevaluating how your organization develops its future leaders, identify any gender disparity. How are you working to train and retain the valuable women in your business, so that they can be the leaders of tomorrow?