How STEM Organizations Can Help Women Advance During the Pandemic

Science and engineering organizations were in the process of expanding their hiring efforts to include more women. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of female hires dropped across industries from 46.94% to 44.86%, with significant backslide in the technology industry, according to a recent LinkedIn study.

“The engine of hiring bias is decision makers [who feel] more confident hiring people who remind them of themselves. At a moment when there are a lot of external stressors, that search for comfort by the decision maker—sometimes conscious and sometimes not—could kick into a slightly higher drive,” Emily Martin, a vice president at the National Women’s Law Center, told the newsletter “Working Together.” 

Women are already underrepresented in science and technology professions, representing under 30% of researchers globally. Historically, women in STEM fields are more likely to hold junior positions because they often lose opportunities to move up the career ladder. This is often due to motherhood, lack of mentorship due to the small number of women in leadership roles, less opportunities to take on the types of responsibilities that are more likely to lead to promotions, and fewer networking options. For example, during the pandemic, women have reported dedicating more time to homeschooling and childcare than fathers. According to a recent New York Times survey, 80% of women said they spent more time assisting their children with homeschooling during lockdowns than their male partners, while 45% of men said they spent more time on homeschooling than their female partners. 

As the pandemic continues to keep many businesses closed, there are a number of changes that technology organizations can make in order to help retain and increase the number of women in their ranks. For instance, they can strive to ensure that remote working conditions are equitable for female employees and create policies that help both men and women balance childcare.

How Can STEM Organizations Make The Workplace Friendlier to Women?

Technology organizations tend to have ultra-masculine workplace cultures that can make women feel alienated. Studies reveal that many women who feel their workplaces are discriminatory or unwelcoming will leave. For instance, the tech innovation company Studio Graphene found that out of 500 female STEM professionals surveyed in the United Kingdom, 20% reported leaving a former job due to discrimination or harassment, 60% felt the problem was related to a lack of diversity, and 58% said their workplace didn’t have policies that supported families.

Diversity experts recommend making the following changes to ensure women feel supported in the workplace: 

  • Barbara Whye, Vice President of Human Resources and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Intel, told Forbes that organizations can support women and minorities by establishing set diversity goals. These goals should be integrated into performance and compensation, and should be tracked and measurable through data.
  • Telle Whitney, former CEO of the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology and co-founder of the Grace Hopper Conference, told Forbes that these goals should come with a deliverable plan and specific milestones, which should be clearly communicated across the organization.
  • Mary Snapp, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft, told Forbes that hiring managers should be trained to recognize unconscious bias. She also said organizations should mandate that hiring managers interview candidates from diverse backgrounds, and ensure job descriptions are gender-neutral.

Additionally, Whitney said organizations should revamp their promotional process to include diversity.

“The companies that have really made a commitment to creating change, they look at the ways promotions are decided, because often it’s very ad hoc,” Whitney told Forbes. while also noting that “consciously or unconsciously, the managers, who are primarily men, just don’t see the characteristics in women that they believe you need in order to advance.”

Creating Female STEM Leaders

IEEE has partnered with Rutgers Business School to offer the IEEE | Rutgers Online Mini-MBA for Engineers. Designed specifically for designed for groups of ten or more within an organization, this program operates entirely online. It features topics including business strategy, managing product development, finance, negotiation, managing human capital, intellectual property strategy, and transformational agility.

Participants will learn how to make organizational decisions with both technical and operational considerations. After developing an understanding of how different functional groups interact to achieve overall goals, they will learn to apply their newly developed business skills to better align their technical capabilities with business strategy.

The program offers the option of a customized capstone project, completely aligned to the needs of your organization. As part of the project, you’ll receive feedback from program professors who have worked as engineering leaders themselves.

To learn more about the IEEE | Rutgers Online Mini-MBA for Engineers for your organization, contact an IEEE Account Manager today.


Borger, Jessica. How COVID-19 risks reversing the gender equity gains made by Women in STEM. Women’s Agenda.

Fairchild, Caroline. (17 June 2020). These male-dominated industries were hiring more women. Then COVID-19 happened. Working Together Newsletter.

Michelson, Joan. (20 June 2020). Women Rehired Less Than Men In COVID Reopening, Per LinkedIn—7 Steps To Hire More Women. Forbes.

Miller, Claire Cain. (6 May 2020). Nearly Half of Men Say They Do Most of the Home Schooling. 3 Percent of Women Agree. New York Times.

Pragya, Agarwal. (4 March 2020). Gender Bias In STEM: Women In Tech Still Facing Discrimination. Forbes.

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