According to a new report from employer branding specialists Universum, the gender imbalance in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields still persists, despite all the federal research, diversity training programs, scholarships for women, and leadership development efforts aimed at tackling inequality.
“The lack of women in STEM positions starts with a pipeline issue,” explains Camille Kelly, vice president, global accounts director at Universum. “There are not enough women who study STEM fields to fill the roles employers need to fill. Although sometimes the numbers look similar for women and men, we see that when you filter out fields that are typically dominated by women, like science and healthcare, there is a gap.”
The report shows that although pipeline is not the biggest issue women face in pursuing studies in STEM, there are specific fields that remain much more unbalanced when it comes to gender, such as engineering and computer science. A 2013 study found women make up just 11 percent of software developers.
“There are so many misconceptions and fallacies about this topic,” says Jonas Barck, Universum’s global director of media and public relations. “This [report] not only reveals why women in STEM jobs are currently less likely to land top leadership positions, but it also gives us a clear perspective into what they look for in future employers.”
Women Want Leadership Opportunities, But Lack Role Models
Thirty-five percent of women in STEM say that leadership opportunities within a company are a critical factor when considering future employers, which is statistically close to the response rate of men. However, women are significantly less likely to choose leadership as a career goal. An array of subtle factors contributes to women’s slow rise in leadership, but Kelly believes that it is a cycle that starts at the top: “When there are so few women in leadership positions, there are fewer role models. So, it’s harder for younger women to understand how to navigate their way to leadership positions.”
Diversity of thought leads to innovation, and many studies support the idea that it leads to better results when utilized by a team of employees. One way to foster diversity of thought is to incorporate gender diversity.
“On a more personal level for employees, it’s encouraging for women and for men to see that the workplace is accurately representing the overall population in terms of gender diversity,” says Kelly.
When looking at how or why women do or do not take on leadership roles, it is important for employers to understand that leadership can be defined in many ways, including people management and product management or spearheading a project or department.
“Employers should start by asking employees – women and men – what their motivations are for leadership positions,” says Kelly. “Awareness is really the first step. It’s not about widening the perceived gap between what women and men want in a workplace; rather, it’s about understanding what drives your specific target group so you can focus on the right things.”
‘Women’s Issues’ Are Not Homogenous
Some of the study’s key findings show that certain issues within the workplace are of relatively equal concern to both female and male employees, challenging the assumption that “women’s issues” are a homogenous set of ideas. For example, both women (57 percent) and men (49 percent) in STEM choose “work/life balance” as a career goal more often than any other goal.
“It’s important for companies to know that work/life balance doesn’t just apply to childcare,” says Kelly. “Especially when looking at students or young professionals, it often applies more to workplace flexibility than anything else – and this is subject to change during different life stages.”
Therefore, it is important for employers to understand what their employees mean by “work/life balance” and respond accordingly.