Despite discussions about gender diversity in STEM, women are still underrepresented, underpaid and discriminated against in these industries.
In our latest virtual conference, “STEM Forward with Women,” we brought together prominent thought leaders across different industries. They shared their insights on how companies can attract and retain talented women in STEM, and how women navigate sexism, microaggressions and bias to thrive and rise in their STEM careers.
Here are the top five takeaways that we got from the conference on September 23, 2021.
1. Women and Girls Matter
Kimberly Bryant, CEO and Founder of Black Girls CODE, highlights the need to diversify the tech workforce and tech leadership ranks so that the sector can serve everyone equitably, which will provide economic access and opportunities to women who’ve traditionally been left behind.
Kimberly notes, “Creating space for women and girls in STEM isn’t just important for the potential market benefits to large tech companies who stand to profit from their ideas and innovations. It’s important because women and girls matter.”
To take steps towards greater gender equality, she invites everyone to contribute in three ways. First, be an advocate for hiring and promoting other women inside your companies. Second, be intentional about mentorship and guide and advise younger women entering the workforce inside both your company and your community.
Finally, male allies in leadership roles should open up more opportunities for women and people of color on their teams. It’s not enough to just add a seat at the table — it’s important to get up and make space for those who have been left out and locked out.
2. Lack of an Inclusive Culture is Holding Underrepresented Groups Back
Though the pipeline for women in STEM needs work, women in the private sector still leave their tech jobs at a rate of 56% by mid-career due to exclusive work culture, says Lucinda Sanders, CEO of National Center for Women & Information Technology.
“Recruiting people with diverse backgrounds isn’t the solution; it’s a band-aid,” says Hallie Bregman, Global Head of People Analytics at PTC, “The number one thing companies can do to recruit (and retain) people is to build psychologically safe cultures.”
“Inclusive cultures are built at the team level,” says Lucinda Sanders, “So pay attention to whose voices aren’t being heard and call them into the conversation.”
She also noted that counting numbers isn’t enough for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the organization. “There are still significant sub-segregations in tech fields. If your company only has underrepresented people in supporting roles, but not lead creator roles, innovation still suffers.”
Sidney Madison Prescott, Global Head of Intelligent Automation at Spotify, said that mentors can play an important role in navigating women’s leadership journey in tech.
“When I started my career, I received pushback from peers for not having a computer science background,” says Sidney Madison Prescott, “But my mentors helped me understand the corporate landscape and dynamics between teams.”
3. We Need Top-down and Bottom-up Culture Change
Men apply for positions if they meet just 60% of the job requirements, while women only apply if they meet 100% of them. Sandra McLeod, Head of Security Assurance at Zoom, advises, “Look around you and see who is making leaps. Lots of times, it’s people who put themselves forward even if they may not feel ready.”
Lauren Knausenberger, CIO of the United States Air Force, shared that she wouldn’t have applied for the CIO position if someone hadn’t told her she was the obvious next person. “Look for people that you can pull into roles,” she said, “Notice who are talked over or ignored in meetings and make an effort to bring in the quieter voices.”
While “leaning in” is important, Tracy Chou, CEO and Founder of Block Party, notes that the burden shouldn’t fall solely on disadvantaged people to “fix themselves” in order to succeed. “Bias is baked into the whole system of how money flows and how decisions get made,” she said. “The whole system needs to be disrupted.”
4. Incremental Change Isn’t Enough
For her closing keynote address, Ellen Pao, CEO of Project Include, emphasizes that the incremental changes made towards gender equity in STEM have been too slow. Instead, we need to take a systemic approach and do a complete reset for meaningful, long-term change.
“Attention doesn’t move the needle. Good intention doesn’t move the needle,” says Ellen, “Action does.” To break the pattern, organizations must change from an exclusionary, biased culture to an inclusive one.
Instead of taking incremental steps that have failed to move the needle, organizations must think of which people aren’t getting fair opportunities and why. They must approach diversity and inclusion as they would any other business impact. “You must fund it, staff it, and mentor it,” says Ellen. “Treat it as part of your goals and everyone else’s. Measure progress, have transparency, and hold people accountable.”
5. The Future of STEM is Female
Back in March 2021, we partnered with some of our enterprise customers to nominate women in their respective organizations for free Nanodegree programs. In this virtual conference, we also heard from three Nanodegree program graduates on how Udacity impacted their careers.
Shifat Nazmee, Pricing Manager at Grameenphone Ltd., said that the skills she learned from the Business Analytics Nanodegree program helped sharpen her critical thinking skills and business acumen. “It never occurred to me that I’d find learning about data analytics and coding so intriguing. Don’t stop learning. Just grab the opportunities you have and dive in!”
Sonja Galkin, DevOps Manager and Telenor, said that her AI for Business Leaders Nanodegree program gave her the flexibility she needed as a mother of young kids. “In the cohort meetings, it was very motivating to have others who are facing and overcoming the same challenges. AI’s impact will be even bigger in the near and far future, and I’m inspired by role models who are working on similar things.”
Before taking her AI for Business Leaders Nanodegree Program, Nermine Ghazy, an AI Product Consultant, focused mostly on visualizations. With the skills she learned in her course, she’s now responsible for building AI products end-to-end. “I can now contribute more to the team, and my role is transformed. The future of STEM is definitely female, and the field is all the better for it.”
Watch the STEM Forward with Women Conference Videos
If any of these discussions sparked your interest, you can watch the recordings from the STEM Forward with Women Conference here.