This month, for the first time in history, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry has gone exclusively to two women. French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier and American scientist Jennifer Doudna were jointly awarded the prize for their work on Crispr-Cas9, a revolutionary DNA editing technique.
“This technology has utterly transformed the way we do research in basic science,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told the New York Times. “I am thrilled to see Crispr-Cas getting the recognition we have all been waiting for, and seeing two women being recognized as Nobel Laureates.”
Despite Progress, Many Women in STEM Continue to Struggle
While women have made enormous contributions to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), many are still left behind. Recent research has found that persistent gender stereotypes and the reported overly masculine culture discourage women from entering these fields in the first place. Because those who do pursue STEM careers are a minority, they are often further alienated by a lack of representation and mentorship available in their industry. Additionally, women with careers in STEM are more likely to be relegated to junior positions with less opportunities for advancement. They are also more likely to leave their career and become a stay-at-home parent after having children. According to a 2016 Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, 7% of fathers are the stay-at-home parent as opposed to 27% of mothers. As previously reported, the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced schools to close and more parents to work from home, is worsening gender disparities.
According to a recent study published in the June issue of Science, which followed male and female STEM graduates through high school and college, the gender imbalance has little to do with women’s abilities. Despite achievement levels, low-scoring male college students were much more likely to pursue math-based majors than their female counterparts. Additionally, female STEM majors, while a minority, tended to outperform their male peers. The authors suggest that this pattern may reflect a desire to close the gender gap that attracts high-achieving women to STEM careers.
“These trends make clear that the labor market demand for undergraduates with computer science and engineering degrees could be met by women, as many women who are highly performing in STEM are not choosing these fields despite many low-STEM-performing men choosing them,” writes Joseph Cimpian, one of the researchers, in Brookings. “In other words, not only could these high-demand areas meet that demand with STEM-competent people, but they could improve the gender diversity of the fields in the process.”
How Tech Companies Can Be More Welcoming to Women
More than ever, female STEM graduates prefer employers with strong diversity and equal pay policies, according to a whitepaper published by the networking and recruitment organization STEM Women. The group surveyed 176 female STEM students and recent STEM grads in the United Kingdom.
Nearly two-thirds of women majoring in STEM said they would review a potential employer’s gender pay gap report when considering whether to take a job offer, 68% percent said they would be more likely to apply if an organization had a mentoring program, 54% said a company’s gender balance would influence whether they accepted a job offer, and 74% said that diversity initiatives at work are either extremely or very important. The women felt that STEM industries would become more welcoming in the future, but differed in how much they thought things would change. While 41% said they believed things would change significantly over the next decade, 56% expected the changes to be small.
STEM Women events manager Sophie Chadwick told Personnel Today that now is an important time “to tackle the fundamental skills gaps and shortages in the UK STEM industry.”
There are a number of actions tech companies can take to make their workplaces friendlier to women. Setting strong diversity goals and policies that include efforts to hire, promote, and pay women equally, instituting maternal and paternal leave policies, training hiring managers to recognize unconscious bias towards women, and rebranding to a more gender-neutral, inclusive image are all ways organizations can make women feel wanted and welcomed.
Create Female STEM Leaders
IEEE has partnered with Rutgers Business School to offer the IEEE | Rutgers Online Mini-MBA for Engineers. Designed specifically 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.
Wu, Katherine J., Zimmer, Carl and Peltier, Elian. (12 October 2020). Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded to 2 Scientists for Work on Genome Editing. New York Times.
Faragher, Jo. (26 August 2020). Majority of female STEM recruits expect to see gender pay gap report. Personnel Today.
Cimpian, Joseph R., Kim, Taek H., and McDermott, Zachary. (19 June 2020). Understanding persistent gender gaps in STEM. Science.