STEM education is still considered to be an unsuitable path for women in many countries and though efforts are being made by world powers to create a more inclusive STEM sector, we are not there yet. That said, we have an opportunity to create societal awareness, in the hopes of getting more women involved in STEM.
In addition to educating women in STEM, we are faced with a challenge of gender equality in the workforce. In 2021, the technology sector must work to retain women in STEM careers and support them in leadership positions.
According to Ashoka University’s report titled “Predicament of Returning Mothers”, more than 70% of women joining the workforce leave after four to eight years due to marriage, relocation, caring for the children and/or elderly, and other various reasons.
It is found that they often do not return to the field as they believe their prospect of securing a job comparable to what they had before has declined. This is often due to the skills gap and their own lack of confidence. Even among women who manage to return to work, it is found that more than 50% leave after a very short period of time.
There are many reasons for women leaving their positions after rejoining the workforce. The skills gap is an important reason since women at home can face additional challenges in up leveling their skillset.
Combine this with childcare responsibilities, a lack of encouragement from family members, and an inability to focus on professional growth during their period of leave, and you have a created a scenario where women face a greater barrier of entry to rejoin the workforce. This not only costs women their careers but can also impact the industry and the country’s economy at large.
When this happens, the technical community loses the women who have trained tirelessly and have nearly a decade of working experience. This creates viscous cycle and ends with less than 20% women in the top leadership positions.
There is no perfect solution for this predicament, but it is important to take proactive measures to help women into leadership roles. Instilling the importance of a career among women from a young age and at every stage of her life, is necessary and should be continually reinforced. Women should also be able to enjoy their education while still taking their career seriously. I am running an international talent show, which has a special track for women to showcase their innovative ideas. It is sponsored by the World Bank’s Collaboration for Network supported Women Network WePOWER. Historically, in technical contests and competitions, it is rare to find women participating. This must change. These competitions encourage innovation and should be a part of the formal education process. Encouraging women to participate and highlight their ideas will only further propel them in their careers and into leadership roles.
Women need a gigantic push of encouragement and support if we hope to get them equally promote their ideas and strengths throughout the industry. Therefore, skills training and confidence building are major first steps to getting more women into the technology sector, getting them into leadership positions, and getting them to enjoy what they do every day.Once women push themselves to sustain their careers, making leaders out of them becomes a natural next step.
(The author Ramalatha Marimuthu is Senior Member, IEEE and the views expressed in this article are her own)