How Companies are Helping Women Find STEM Careers

Business dealEarlier this month, Intel launched their first diversity initiative, pledging $300 million to achieve a fully diverse workforce by 2020. CEO Brian Krzanich claims this is just the beginning—during his keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, he said, “It’s time to step up and do more. It’s not good enough to say we value diversity.”

This move is by no means unprecedented, as major companies and schools across the country have risen to the occasion amid reports of a distinctly male-dominated tech industry.

In December, MIT announced a new, women-focused workshop titled, “Make Your Own Wearables” designed to introduce female high school students to the possibilities of the tech industry. Kristen Railey, a mechanical engineer who brought the idea to MIT said, “My goals for the workshop were to spark girls’ interest in engineering through the trendy topic of wearables and to equip them with hands-on engineering skills before college.”

Common sense tells us that if women have access to engineering and STEM careers and gain experience working in the field, more women will find an interest in tech and move on to pursue STEM related majors. However, according to a recent study, that’s only half the battle.

Researchers surveyed 1,800 scientists and graduate students from 30 different scientific disciplines, including philosophy, neuroscience, anthropology, and engineering, asking participants to rate their level of agreement with statements like, “If you want to succeed in [discipline], hard work alone just won’t cut it; you need to have an innate gift or talent.”

Unfortunately, they found that disciplines that rated themselves higher in raw talent tended to employ fewer women. Sarah-Jane Leslie, a professor of cognitive psychology at Princeton University and co-author of the study believes social bias plays a large part in the findings. “Pervasive cultural associations link men but not women with raw intellectual brilliance. Women’s accomplishments are seen as grounded in long hours poring over books, rather than in some kind of raw brilliance.”

This raises an important question: how do we begin to alter the cultural stereotypes, help women be more confident in their natural talents, and pursue meaningful careers in STEM?

Last month, three female computer scientists at MIT took to Reddit to answer questions on everything from technical programming to what it’s like to be a woman in the industry. They used the platform to inspire users to pursue a STEM career by telling anecdotes and giving advice to current students.

When one user asked if the three women were treated differently than their male counterparts, Jean, a programming language design and software verification researcher, summarized the results of the study with her own experience.

“Yes. Especially when I was younger, I noticed that people did not expect me to know very much. While some of my male friends could walk into a room and have people listen to their technical ideas by default, I had to do some amount of proving myself. Now that I have more credentials it’s become easier because rather than having to do this whole song-and-dance to demonstrate my technical credibility, I can say what I’ve done in the past. This can be exhausting–and certainly made me doubt myself more when I was younger.”

As more women enter the field through initiatives similar to Intel’s and MIT’s, these experiences will become less common. It seems the answer to the question of altering workplace stereotypes is the same determination of employers and colleges to hire and educate more women in STEM that has resulted in the creation of the initiatives themselves.

Companies and universities are now realizing the need for workplace diversity, and across both major changes are being implemented. Southern Illinois University’s Society of Women Engineers is preparing to host its third annual “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” in February, where girls from grades 5-8 are invited to attend a daylong event that offers exposure to the engineering field.

In addition, ASU recently made the news for its club, “Women in Science and Engineering,” whose members are dedicated a mission to “guide, gather and advance” anyone they meet. Mariah Patton, president of the club, says she “was looking for a nice, supportive community of young women. I was really looking to find a niche where I could connect with other women who had similar goals and a similar mindset.”

While Intel may be the highest-profile company to spend a significant amount of money on workplace diversity, it certainly won’t be the last. Expect to read more headlines like this as the collective effort of our educational system’s effort to bring more women into STEM begins to take effect. Until then, you can help make a difference by supporting foundations like Million Women Mentors or the American Association of University Women, which provide scholarships and fellowships to help young women begin their STEM careers.

Guest Contributed by Matthew McCallister, a content specialist at CareerGlider

Guest advice and opinions are not necessarily those of