Worldwide, the rate of enrollment in university-level education of young women now surpasses that of young men. However, according to the World Economic Forum, only 16% of those women are obtaining undergraduate degrees in Mathematics, Informatics, Natural Sciences and Technology (MINT) subjects. In contrast, 30% of male students graduate with MINT degrees, with the biggest differences in engineering, mathematics, and computer sciences. We are living in a world in which women make up 46% of the civilian workforce, but just 26% of the MINT workforce.
The American Association of University Women released a report which attempted to answer the question, ‘why are so fewer women pursuing careers in MINT fields?’ As it turns out, it has nothing to do with ability or even interest, and everything to do with cultural and societal beliefs, learning environments, and implicit biases about gender. More specifically, factors such as lack of encouragement from family members and teachers, unconscious beliefs about gender in math and science industries, lack of self-confidence, and the dominance of unflattering archetypes found in media can have a huge affect on girls’ desire to pursue stereotypically “male” fields.
Because the odds are already stacked against women who pursue MINT careers, we need to ensure these women have the best possible chance of succeeding in those fields. Here are a few steps we can take to begin to shrink the gender gap and attract more women to MINT careers.
The first way to show that an organization is committed to hiring diverse candidates is to build a MINT pipeline in the local community. Creating programs that cater to girls and young women is an excellent way to show potential employees that the organization places value in diversity. Firms can host “open days” where girls are able to tour of offices and laboratories and speak with female employees. Additionally, they can partner with schools to sponsor MINT clubs or competitions to encourage girls and young women to participate in science and engineering projects, where employees volunteer their time to work with groups as they conduct experiments or build machines. Similarly, internship programs for secondary school or university students can showcase a commitment to hiring female staff and beginning a mentor process that can support young women as they start their journeys into MINT fields.
During the hiring and promotion processes, it is vital to actively consider female applicants for both entry-level and leadership opportunities. Even those who actively reject gender stereotypes may still have unconscious beliefs about women in MINT fields. Before looking at applicants, it is imperative that we learn about our own biases, understand how they may affect the decisions we make, and take actions to correct for those biases.
One way to actively recruit female candidates is to advertise jobs in in places that specifically target women. There are plenty of professional networks that cater to women in MINT industries. As these communities host meetups and conferences, ask if your company can be a part of it. Whether you are interested in speaking at a conference, sponsoring an event, or simply advertising jobs on their websites, there are plenty of opportunities to introduce and establish yourself in spaces that are dedicated to women in MINT.
Another way to attract women is to reevaluate how the jobs are being advertised. The end result of hiring more women must begin with more women to apply for jobs. Applying for jobs is a tedious and often unrewarding process. More often than not, candidates are looking for things that disqualify them, so they don’t have to waste their time applying. When writing job descriptions, remember that the purpose is to persuade people to apply, not to discourage them. Some ways to boost application rates are to avoiding gendered and aggressive language, only listing qualifications and technologies if absolutely required for the position, and explaining the opportunities for training, mentorship, and growth within the role.
In order to combat misogyny in the workplace, conduct departmental reviews to find out how the women in the office perceive the company culture. Historically, women in MINT fields have been forced to endure degrading comments and overt discrimination from their peers or superiors, so it is vital that all employees know that the company does not tolerate inappropriate comments or actions.
Secondly, consider implementing mentoring programs for junior employees, and continuing to foster talent. As women feel supported in their work environment, they are much more likely to remain at the company and return after taking time off. Flexible work hours, parental leave, and strategies to ease the transition back to work after taking time off can significantly impact the longevity of women’s careers.
Finally, though the wage gap in MINT careers in smaller than that of the general population, a substantial gap still exists. If employers work diligently and transparently to close this gap, it may entice women to pursue MINT careers.
As more women are hired and have positive work experiences, MINT fields will naturally become a more inclusive space. However, we can’t just wait around until that happens. By taking positive actions now, MINT employers can inspire and benefit from the millions of young girls and women who are ready to break down barriers and destroy gender stereotypes.