By Ellie Martin
The unfortunate reality today is that women are underrepresented in tech. Only 15% of computer science majors at universities are women. That figure increases slightly in the workforce, with women holding 24% of STEM jobs, but the higher you look within a company, the fewer women there are. For example, only 18% of board seats in S&P 500 tech companies are held by women.
The truth is that it is hard to be a woman in tech, and many women are discouraged by that fact. Being one of few women in STEM is lonely, isolating, and they often have to deal with inferior pay and watch their male colleagues get hired before them. While progress is being made, we have a long way to go to reach equality yet, and to truly reach reach gender parity in the world of STEM, we don’t just need transparency from companies: we need more women need to enter STEM fields.
So what’s the solution? How can we encourage more women to enter a field where they are disadvantaged because of their gender? The key may lie with powerful women who are already in STEM and can provide support and guidance to other women around the world. Here are 5 ways powerful women could help encourage more women to get into STEM:
1. Help close the pay gap.
The gender pay gap in STEM is one of the biggest hurdles to encouraging more women to enter tech, so one of the best things powerful women can do for women interested in STEM and for themselves is to fight to correct that balance. In recent years, women in STEM have pushed for pay equality and transparency and have seen some major successes. Take, for example, two Salesforce employees, Cindy Robbins, the head of human resources, and Leyla Seka, the head of Desk.com (a subset of Salesforce), who approached their CEO Marc Benioff and told him to analyze the company’s salaries, believing there to be a gender pay gap.
Disbelieving but willing to investigate, Benioff agreed, and the company evaluated every employee’s salary to discover that indeed there was a pay gap. Benioff promptly dedicated $3 million to equalizing salaries across men and women. While not every discussion about pay will be as successful as this, powerful women have the opportunity to open the conversation about the pay gap in ways that other women don’t, and this could help more women feel confident entering STEM themselves.
2. Support remote work.
One of the commonly cited reasons for women leaving STEM or not entering altogether is the difficulties of being a woman in an office that is dominantly male. An easy solution to this problem is to let women work from home. Studies have shown that remote employees are more productive than in-office workers, and online vetting processes have improved to ensure that remote workers will get the job done. Some women have already recognized the benefits of remote work and have built companies to support women who are interested in remote opportunities.
For example, Katharine Zaleski and Milena Berry founded PowerToFly, a startup that helps connect women with remote work opportunities. Zaleski, the President of the company, points out another important benefit of remote work: it helps mothers. She explains that after childbirth, there are “two bad choices for women: go back to the office full-time or slowly lose your career because you can’t go back to the office full-time.” Remote work allows women to raise a child while maintaining their career. If more powerful women support remote work, whether hiring female remote employees or get involved with organizations that promote remote options, then more women may feel encouraged to enter STEM because they will have more opportunities to work in STEM-related fields without having to make as many sacrifices.
3. Mentor other women and foster community.
One of the most important ways powerful women could work towards equality in STEM is to support and mentor other women. This can mean writing a blog post and sharing an experience online, or it can mean going to a local school and tutoring girls in middle school. Regardless of the type of mentoring, support from professionals already in STEM could greatly benefit women who are on the fence about pursuing a career in a similar area. Mentorship would also go a long way towards fostering a community of women in tech and other STEM fields, so that individual women don’t feel as isolated.
To further foster community, it would be beneficial for aspiring STEM professionals hear from successful women in the field, not only for inspiration, but also for advice on how to handle the challenges of being underrepresented and often undervalued in STEM fields. This type of support can come from speaking at events and sharing expertise, but it can also be as simple as joining organizations that bring women in STEM together, such as Anita Borg Institute and Women In Technology International. Many young girls grow up without a role model for their dream job, and powerful women could be those role models for them and so encourage them to choose the career path they daydream about.
Ellie Martin is co-founder of Startup Change group. Her works have been featured on Yahoo! , Wisebread, AOL, among others. She currently splits her time between her home office in New York and Israel. You may connect with her on Twitter.