Women in all STEM fields often get passed over for leadership roles. Though women earn 60% of master’s degrees in the United States, few currently hold advanced positions within the companies who employ them. In fact, 43% of the 150 public companies with the largest revenue in Silicon Valley had zero female executive officers as recently as 2016. Talk of the closing gender gap in STEM fields has created some disparity in how men and women view employment challenges: 58% of men believed there were no more obstacles for women in the workplace, while 60% of women disagreed.
Not only does gender inequality snub 50% of America’s talented workforce, it holds companies back. Women have incredibly valuable skills and traits that make them perfect leaders in STEM fields. Companies that have not made the effort to promote gender equality within their workforce are losing out on the innovative ideas and skills women have to offer. In fact, companies that have better gender diversity outperform those that do not by 15%. Here are three of many traits that make women ideally suited for leadership roles in these in-demand fields.
Mentorship is an important aspect of leadership. Gone are the days when barking orders and expecting work to get done was sufficient. Today, employees and teams need leaders who will inspire, provide guidance, and be patient as they develop their skills and confidence. Women tend to be more nurturing, making them ideally suited to leading teams and individuals that depend on development for success.
In fields where more women are needed, female role models and mentors can play a key role in nurturing future talent and preserving the confidence and self-assurance of female STEM workers. One study of 150 female engineering students showed that female mentors could act as a “social vaccine” of sorts. Although the conversations between students and male and female mentors were largely the same, women who had female mentors were more likely to succeed and become confident in their professional lives.
Although we live in a data-driven world, “soft” skills are more important than ever. This explains why emotional intelligence is such an important predictor of performance. While many women have excellent technical skills, they are also more likely to be empathetic, which can be an asset in both strategic planning and management.
Women can use their skills in empathy to help better understand customer needs and expectations, which can help companies to grow their revenue and gain customer loyalty. Internally, empathy is a key leadership trait that women can use as managers to help empower and direct team members.
Big tech companies like Google have started to figure out just how much they need empathy in order to succeed. Google’s Project oxygen highlights how empowerment and caring are important for Google’s list of quality attributes, and that technical ability actually ranked last of the eight traits they value in leaders.
Fighting for gender equality often means recognizing where women’s skills can help balance out those of men. Women are naturally good at communication, which is vital to long-term business growth and success. Adding women can help balance a team out and improve both internal communications and brand storytelling.
Whether this superior communication is a result of biological differences in how boys and girls develop, or is culturally learned behavior is up for debate. However, numerous studies have shown that women tend to be better communicators and storytellers than men.
As we’ve seen from the ongoing dialogue about gender equality in STEM, there’s still a long way to go. Fixing the inequality in leadership roles is an important step. Women can excel in these positions—and as they excel, they can inspire the next generation of female STEM leaders.