I am continuously fascinated by the topic of diversity and inclusion in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. As a woman who has walked the lonely path of STEM subjects at school and university, and subsequently diverted to a career outside of the disciplines (like so many of my female predecessors), I am acutely interested the positive role diversity and inclusion can play in encouraging females to remain on the STEM path.
My Journey with STEM Subjects
In Leaving Certificate (Ireland’s A Level equivalent), I studied physics, chemistry, and mathematics all at higher level. In writing this blog, the first thing that struck me is that not one teacher, peer, mentor, or guidance counsellor mentioned the possibility of a career in technology. The harsh reality was that only 4 of the 30 students in my physics and mathematics classes were girls, by comparison to my biology and chemistry classes which were majority female. I have always strived to be a leader in my own path and choose to do Physics with Biomedical sciences in University. Ultimately, I had a positive experience from my time at Dublin City University, however I changed degree program to business studies after my second year of science, as I did not envision a life in a lab. My career has taken me on a different path, incorporating my passion for science from a commercial perspective through recruiting talent. I do find solace in the challenge of fighting for women and girls to pursue a career in STEM.
Female Engineering Leader in Industry
Recently, I had a conversation with a female leader in STEM. Valentina Vacca is a Director of IT Architecture at Quartz Enterprises and previously a hands on Linux Engineer; she explained her journey and how she achieved success by continuously reading and teaching herself, so that she did not let any opportunity pass her by. We discussed females STEM tech and the lack thereof; her belief is that Girls from a young age are not encouraged to pursue tech, and equally are not exposed to the opportunities that exist within technology. The upsetting reality is that over her career she has not worked with many females. It goes without saying that in an ideal world when you are looking for CVs it should be a 50:50 gender split. However, this ideal is far removed from reality, as Valentina Vacca outlined:
“There are no women doing what I do. How do you improve the number of women applying for roles? Women should be actively encouraged to apply for roles and treated equally when they do. Industries need to provide better opportunities for women in the application process, perhaps by trying to find 50:50 on CVs first” Valentina Vacca
Furthermore, Valentina pointed out, that as a female, a lot of ‘moving-up’ the ladder involves moving companies which should not be the case. Companies should not make hires, and promise opportunities, if they do not exist. She also explained the high pressures and bullying that exists in technology, which occurs largely due to deadlines and production failures. This highlights today’s main problem, which is inclusivity in the workplace. I asked her where she sees the industry going, and if she anticipates change in the numbers dynamic? She concretely said no as the numbers are not there to change it.
A key take-away from the interview with Valentina was that her role model for pursuing STEM was herself, and not someone from the industry. This idea can be echoed through the famous cliché “be the change you wish to see in the world”. Women in STEM need to inspire themselves, as there is a little-to-no representation. This does not absolve us of our responsibility, perhaps we can do a better job at spotlighting women’s achievements in the industry. People can also play an active role helping and inspiring young women to pursue futures beyond those prescribed in traditional gender roles.
The story in Britain
If we look at the DevOps, Cloud and Infrastructure teams that exist up and down this country, one could argue that diversity already exists in relation to race but there is a lack of females in technology, with only 18% of women classified as an IT Specialist in this sector within Britain. This number has remained consistently low for the past decade.
What is going wrong?
- Only 63% of Girls Study a Stem Subject at School
- 30% Studying a Stem Subject at University
- 3% Consider a career in technology
What are the reasons for not choosing a Career within STEM subjects?
- Lack of female role models in Industry
- Not enough information
- More Grade conscious
- Not presented as an option
Britain is a tech hub with more than £6bn in venture funding in 2018, with 80% of that going to tech investment in fast growing industries. However, with all these investments we are entering the future with one hand behind our backs. Technology surrounds us and women make up 50% of the consumers, logic would therefore suggest that they should play a part in the design and creation of the apps and technologies. The British tech-hub could grow exponentially with the encouragement of more women playing an active role in the design and delivery of tech innovation. In a workforce that has at least 20% gender diversity, companies reap the rewards with more than 10% increased innovation revenue.
In South-East Asia, 32% of women make up the technology workforce, this compares to a 28% average across the rest of the world. South-East Asia is a global leader, with women in countries like Thailand accounting for 42% of the workforce.
What attracts more women in South East Asia?
- More Education
- More encouragement
- Attractive growth and Salary Opportunities
This is a blog which I am going to dedicate to educating people about tech, and the incredible opportunities and careers it can offer you. As we look forward to 2021, and a changed work landscape post-Covid, we have the opportunity to create real and lasting. change when it comes to diversity and inclusion in STEM. Some active steps as individuals and organisation we can take are:
- Educate educators at primary and post-primary levels on the versatility that careers in STEM can offer their students.
- Allow more opportunity for growth and breakdown barriers to entry by distinguishing more between essential and nice to have skills
- Women need to use more direct language when applying for roles, modesty is not the best policy in this case. (BigUp.ai is an AI tool that will help women to stand out in competitive markets)
- Increase communication between universities and organisations to correlate the skills of todays world and the graduates that enter it.
As recruiters, we have a crucial role to play in diversifying the industries we represent. We should not only act a motivational force for our female candidates, but must also search harder to find these candidates, as they exist, just not in large numbers. The power of education will provide lasting change to the statistic of 5% of women in tech leadership positions.
We also had some extra special guests join the interview with Valentina… Sadly they did not wish to comment at this stage!