By guest contributor, Beatrice Ruiz, Assistant VP, Global D&I and belonging program manager, State Street| Founder of #InspirationCafe (DEI & L&D)

This article is part of a series analysing the current status of women in STEM and how can organisations attract and retain more female talent. This week, our guest contributor speaks of her own experience as a woman in STEM, and why so many decide to pick a different career path.

In one way or another, I have been involved in moving diversity and inclusion initiatives forward since 1998. Sometimes as a team member, most times as a leader. When I graduated high school at the top of my class, everyone expected me to pick a STEM degree. I remember not feeling comfortable with that. For many years, I worked on leveraging other skills I have while learning to program, to analyze balance sheets, and so on.

I finally found my purpose, and it is not in STEM. It is in Diversity and Inclusion. Correction: it is in measurable Diversity and Inclusion.  I love connecting people and helping companies grow into excellent, diverse, equal, and culturally dynamic organizations. 

Speaking of measurable diversity: After my first year of MBA, back in 2017, I landed an internship as an HR Strategy Consultant at a very cool biotech in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There, I spent four months researching diversity and inclusion within STEM companies. Specifically, pharmaceutical and biotech companies in the USA, to then advise the HR senior leadership team on the next strategic steps.

Thanks to the many research articles, data, and interviews that I conducted, I understood why high-school me was not that comfortable picking a STEM career. I wish I had known this earlier. 

Starting with the positive findings…

The gender pay gap within STEM companies is 9% lower than that of non-STEM organizations, and women make +33% more when they join STEM companies than when they stay in non-STEM careers. It sounds like a promising start.

Work-life balance is equally challenging in STEM. Not more, not less. Who would have guessed? According to Joan C. Williams, in her research article The five biases pushing women out of STEM, women tend to associate a higher pay with an impossible family-work balance, even when the retribution is still below what it should be. Can we blame them? 

In the last Institute of Corporate Directors’ webinar, Women Leading the World through the Pandemic(…), Theresa Oswald, CEO of Doctors Manitoba and former government official, mentioned that women have been trained to multitask since they were young (…). I had that they have known they had to work hard to achieve a balance and, even more, to succeed. There are positive outcomes, especially in this pandemic, but I’ll come back to it in the next article. 

So what is preventing women to pursue a STEM career?

And, what is preventing those who do to stay long enough to land senior roles? According to research, the average tenure for women in STEM is three years.

Yes, only three years. Why is that? 

It turns out that 14% of women believe a career in STEM will not help them achieve their goal to care for others. This goal is nurtured since we are little. First, in general, there’s a natural tendency for it. Second, the socio-economic and cultural environment a woman grows up in has a significant impact on her search for a career that will allow her to care for others. Finally, there’s an unspoken expectation that women look after everyone else. 

If we add to the mix the perception that women have fewer networking opportunities, less exposure to senior leaders, lack of role models, fewer opportunities to grow, lack of help from other women, not surprising, unfortunately, etc. we have an interesting cocktail that invites us to reflect on the many steps we can take to attract women into STEM. 

So what steps are you taking to attract, engage, and retain women in your workplace?

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