While more women are opting for careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), there's an existing struggle for them to advance in the industry. Many female students aren't motivated to start a career in the industry simply because they don't believe they'll have the chance to progress.
"Ensuring better female representation in STEM should not be thought of as a gender issue but a business issue," said Sripriya Raghunathan, vice president of systems and software engineering at HARMAN. "Bringing more women with careers in STEM to the workforce will contribute to an employer's competitiveness in the marketplace and foster innovation."
Women should feel as confident as men in their decision to pursue STEM careers. Here are three ways to improve advancement of women in STEM.
1. Start with schools.
According to a survey by iCIMS, 61 percent of recruiters said they are most interested in hiring candidates with majors in STEM, but only 23 percent of college seniors graduate with that degree – and an exceptionally small portion is female.
"To nurture women in STEM, we need to start at the school level," said Raghunathan. "Employers should create programs that allow their women leaders in STEM to share their experiences and stories with young women who may be considering a career in STEM."
Partner with schools and offer conferences, events and presentations so experts can connect with female students. Don't wait until they're already settled in college with a different major; start with high schools to encourage women from a young age.
2. Create leadership training and mentoring programs.
It's important for women to feel that they're as capable as men, especially in leadership positions. But without the proper training, they might lack the confidence and drive.
"Employers can help bridge the gap by encouraging employees to form communities focused on connecting, innovating and building career advancement and support," said Jen Scandariato, senior director of cloud services at iCIMS. "Employers should offer resources, workshops, leadership and technical trainings, mentorship programs, and support career mobility and career pathing to promote an inclusive environment for all employees."
Everyone needs a mentor, and this is especially true for women in a predominantly male industry. Having someone to look up to for advice or inspiration can make a difference in their entire career.
"Employers should build mentor programs for women looking [to] advance their career to tighten the gender gap in male-dominated STEM fields," said Nisa Amoils, venture capitalist at Scout Ventures. "The lack of women in STEM can make it more difficult for women to develop professional relationships that advance their careers."
According to Raghunathan, these programs should do the following:
- Provide tips to students and young women starting their careers in STEM
- Offer ways to strengthen strategic, leadership, communication and technical skills
- Empower female employees through sponsorship programs
- Connect new women with senior female leaders
Raghunathan added that mentorships can help both new and existing female STEM employees, and attract and retain talent.
"With a solid mentorship program, companies can improve the onboarding experience for new female STEM employees," said Raghunathan. "This helps in creating a great first impression as an employer and also from a talent engagement standpoint."
3. Offer returnships.
More than half of women in STEM think a parental leave would decrease their chance of getting a promotion; but 82 percent of office professionals and 95 percent of millennials would be interested in a returnship program in the future.
Returnships are similar to internships, but for those who have been absent from their careers for an extended period. This is a great opportunity for both mothers and fathers to refresh their brains and redevelop their skills in the workplace.
"As an employer, if your organization establishes a returnship for mothers, there should also be a formal program in place for men to have a returnship, because we are seeing more men becoming caretakers as women progress in their careers," said Scandariato. "Men and women should have equal opportunities to take time away from their career to grow their family, and be able to easily transition back into the workplace without penalties."