Women hold one in five top jobs in science, technology, math and engineering globally. For women of color, this number is even lower. But a recent study by the University of Michigan and the New York Stem Cell Foundation found that it’s not that women are uninterested in these fields—on the contrary, women make up around 50% of students pursuing higher education in STEM fields. However, as seniority level increases, the number of women holding these positions significantly decreases.
Why does it matter if women are not attaining as many high-level positions in the STEM fields as men? When we lose gender diversity in these fields, we also lose a lot of available brainpower that could be used to better our industry, and ultimately our communities. Lack of diversity slows innovation. As our industry faces talent shortages, rapidly evolving technology and climate change, we cannot afford to give up the capabilities of 50% of the population. We must take steps to address the gender gap if we want to move solutions forward as efficiently as possible.
There are numerous reasons why women are not obtaining higher-lever positions in the STEM fields, including lack of access to paid family leave, childcare, flexible scheduling, and career development. This issue is systemic, and will need real, fundamental changes to address it. It will not change overnight. Part of the process is changing cultural perceptions as well.
This is why I was proud to participate in a recent Women in Industry panel at UW-Platteville. Events like these offer us a way to show women that not only are successful careers in STEM fields like engineering possible—but they can rise to become industry leaders. There does not have to be a limit to the seniority level they can aspire to.