Working in the Past: The STEM Gender GAP

By May 12, 2017 July 15th, 2019 No Comments


I was inspired (and encouraged) to write this post based on the work of Hazel Garcia at InvestmentZen. Her recent article presents some pretty stark realities about the STEM gender gap, particularly in my own state of Indiana, which ranks near the bottom in terms of the ratio of women to men in these professions. See the infographic and Hazel’s analysis below for more details.

The presentation of the facts is discouraging, particularly from the point of view of a business leader, tech entrepreneur, and someone in complete control of hiring at a technology company. I have posted three jobs in the past three months. I have filled two of them with white men. They are great hires and wonderful people. I am very excited to have them aboard. They were truly our best applicants.

I look at the pool of applicants from a diversity perspective and I find myself thinking “What in the $#!% am I doing wrong?”

How can I encourage a more diverse supply of qualified and accessible candidates? How can I make my team more closely resemble that of the overall workforce? Should I be worried about it?

Our Brand Is Retro, But Our Team Isn’t from the 1950s

I look at all of those vintage photos from NASA that we use in our branding and almost every person represented in those photos is a white male. Sure, there are exceptions, but the fact that I am calling people of color and women “exceptions” only reinforces the intractability of the problem. A white man in a technology profession is “normal” in the U.S.  Anyone else is abnormal.

The trend is increasingly perplexing knowing what I do about the gender gap in who attends colleges and universities. Many, many more women are participating in post-secondary education than in the past, and women have surpassed men as the majority of college-goers. Shouldn’t this equate to a young workforce that is dominated by educated women? Shouldn’t I be seeing more female applicants for my positions, whether technical, business development, administrative, or otherwise?

I looked back at the applicants I had for my Project Manager and Developer roles over the past three months.

More than 90% of my applicants are male. That is a worrying statistic.

Reversing the Pressure

I find myself wondering if our efforts to tackle the issue of gender diversity in technology fields might be aided by looking at it from a new angle. What if in addition to pressuring women to study STEM, and pressuring STEM employers to hire qualified women, we focus on introducing young men to non-STEM careers?

At the risk of following the gender stereotypes, I think we would all benefit from having more men in teaching, social services, healthcare, and marketing/communications careers, just as we would all benefit from having more women in STEM careers.

Perhaps we could focus some of our attention on rounding out our gender representation across the workforce by encouraging children and young adults to follow their interests, STEM or otherwise, without regard to gender. Perhaps we could build a more passionate and engaged workforce if we were not concerned about fitting them into the jobs of today, and instead focused on them creating the economies, institutions, and ideas of tomorrow (again, STEM or otherwise). We are already twenty years too late to build the employees we need for the STEM jobs that are sitting empty.

We are only going to get the society and economy of tomorrow if we stop shoehorning kids into the narrow jobs of today.

So, as business leaders and educators, it is our duty to help young people follow their interests as they prepare for the future. At the same time, as employers and political leaders, it is our duty to retrofit our current workforce into our needs, while simultaneously providing training for, increasing exposure to, and adapting STEM-related jobs so that our under and unemployed workforce can fill immediate needs.

And while we’re at it, let’s make sure that women have roughly 50% of the seats at the tables when all of these great things are happening.

Which States Have The Smallest Gender Gap In STEM Occupations?


Thoughts from Hazel Garcia

On a fundamental level, every company primarily concerns itself with the bottom line. This focus divides between a number of variables, including employee retention and staying within the allotted budget on any given project.

However, our overall professional culture continues to miss the realization that many of the most highly qualified and talented potential job candidates are being systematically overlooked. The best man for the job may not make it past the initial vetting stage simply because she’s not a man. Despite huge strides forward over the past several decades, gender equality remains a goal we strive to achieve.

Interestingly, this imbalance of gender shows quite strongly in more technically advanced fields. In every single state, the gender ratio in such STEM fields lies overwhelmingly on the side of the men.

A few companies have begun bending to political pressure and made a pretense of hiring a more diverse professional workforce, but even they miss the real benefit to such workplace equality. As our culture becomes more supportive of gender equality, more and more young women choose to pursue professional certifications and higher education degrees in advanced scientific and technical fields.

As they continue to be overlooked due to gender, this means that for the leadership in any company smart enough to realize it, a growing supply of highly skilled, capable, and qualified workers eagerly wait for a new position in the ever-expanding STEM career fields. Many of whom possess even better qualifications and aptitudes than some of the men being hired. Bringing in top talent remains one of the best investments a company can make.

Hiring based on qualifications alone opens the door for some exceptionally talented professional candidates. The concept of recruiting the best person for the job may not seem like much of a stretch, but the data in the infographic here shows that although the situation is improving, gender still plays a major part in the hiring process.


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