Women’s History Month has often focused on gender equality in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and the lack thereof. The issues that result in low numbers begin early in life and continue into higher education. By the time students reach college, women are significantly underrepresented in STEM majors. Only around 19% of computer and information science majors are women. And only 38% of women who major in computers end up working work in computer fields.
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has advocated for gender equality in the academic world and workplace over multiple decades. It’s recent suggestions for STEM education continue that advocacy and include:
- Design courses in STEM studies to be welcoming for women.
- Prioritize diverse, inclusive and respectful environments, and diverse leadership.
- Diffuse hierarchical relationships between trainees and faculty.
- Ensure transparency and accountability for regarding sexual harassment.
- Campuses should fully enforce Title IX in STEM
- Promote mentorship, sponsorship networking and male ally programs.
The AAUW also recommends these changes in the workplace to increase gender equality in STEM:
- Recruit more women and work to retain and promote women throughout their careers with strong advancement pipelines and continued professional development and leadership training.
- Promote welcoming work environments, including providing pay equity; flexibility; strong family and medical leave policies; inclusion and anti-bias training; mentorship, networking and ally-ship opportunities; and strong anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.
An excellent example of workplace equity is Simone Bohnenberger-Rich, SVP of product for Eigen Technologies. Ultimately, it comes down to holistic support from the organizations that represent the tech industry – through allyship within the company and beyond, support for working parents with various family dynamics, and a greater understanding of the multiple identities that employees can hold. Simone is unique in that she sees her identity as a queer woman and working mother as shaping her professional experience rather than holding her back.
“Over the course of my career, women working in technology and financial services have taken major strides in closing the gender gap. While there is still a need to diversify the workforce, I’ve seen first-hand more and more women of my generation and below taking on leadership roles in the sectors I’ve worked in. It is a huge improvement from when I started out and one that we must build upon so that we can keep closing the gap.
“Sponsorship is essential for all careers, particularly professional services, finance, and tech. In order to break gender biases, I challenge organizations to assess the female representation within their company, identify gaps and ask the difficult questions about why the gaps exist – ensure you’re doing enough to support parents, encourage employees to grow their knowledge economy and find their allies. We also need men to step up and be good allies. I am where I am today because male mentors, colleagues and friends stepped up and helped me. Men need to know they have a role to play and that they can make a real difference.
“One main reason I joined Eigen Technologies was because it was a company with senior leaders who were like me, women I had a lot in common with – and that’s representation. It was clear to me that I could progress because I could see examples of who I could be from the women who paved the path ahead of me. This is why mentorship is so important to me. The younger gay women within our organization know that they have a real, approachable human to call on for advice or simply picture themselves in my seat. Nobody is perfect, and there is still much work to be done, but I’m hopeful for the future and the direction we’re heading in.”
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