Honoring International Women’s Day: Thoughts on gender equity in STEM

To commemorate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we're celebrating women in STEM and sharing their thoughts on how to cultivate gender equity.
Women in STEM

Despite being half of the US population, women only make up about 27% of the STEM related workforce. On college campuses, the gender gap is particularly high in some of the fastest growing and highest paying segments of STEM. For example, as of 2018, while women earned 85% of health-related bachelor’s degrees, those numbers represent just 22% in engineering and 19% in computer science

At IMO we prioritize talking candidly about matters of equity and inclusion. The following are some highlights from a recent panel discussion on women in STEM.

On understanding unique experiences and backgrounds:

“I think we really have to encourage people to understand where their female peers have been and what they’ve experienced. And that goes for everything, not just the gender dynamic, but understanding people’s diverse backgrounds and everything that they might be bringing with them to the table. Whether it’s a positive attribute or whether its previous bias or previous discrimination, I think we all need to be part of the conversation. Certainly as women we can lift each other up, but we have to draw everyone in as well.” – Amanda Heidemann, MD, FAAFP (CMIO, CMIO Services, LLC)


On the importance of mentorship and sponsorship:

Mentorship should be very intentional and very specific. If you want mentorship in executive presence, find someone you can emulate that you see knocks it out of the park. If you want [to learn how to] build your brand, you might find a different mentor for those types of things.

Sponsorship, generally, is that person who will be invited or will participate in conversations that you won’t be at – with your seniors and the leaders of your organization. And when that special project comes up, you want your sponsor to know who you are. What are your strengths, opportunities, and goals. What are you able to take on that he or she or they will put your name on the table [to do].” – Deidra Jackson (VP, IFP Customer Success, Bright Health)

“If you don’t see somebody who looks exactly like you, who has exactly the same background as you, don’t necessarily discount that. I think we have to recognize that there aren’t women in leadership positions everywhere. There certainly are not women of color or another minority or demographic in many of these positions. So you might have to find a mentor who doesn’t fit exactly the look and feel you’re going for. But what I think is important is to let your needs guide what type of mentor you find. ” – Sunita Tendulkar (VP, Agile Portfolio Management, IMO)

On barriers to entry and creating a pipeline of talent:

“Giftedness is not inherent. It’s not something you’re born with, it’s something that is nurtured. I think there is absolutely pipeline nurturing and development that needs to start a lot earlier. We need to create access (…) and allow all kids to go to coding classes and build those into curricula, etc.” – Deidra Jackson

“I do think it can be a barrier when you’re a high schooler or in college and you’re trying to look and see where do you see success. If you can’t envision yourself being successful there  if you don’t see other women who are successful in something you’re interested in – that paints a picture that maybe this isn’t something women are successful in. I think it’s really important that we recognize as well – how do we continue to not just make it seem that it’s just one or two women who are successful in these areas? There’s thousands, millions of women who are successful in STEM. I think we have to do a better job – as we are building their confidence – of showing them here’s the proof… this is something a lot of women enjoyed doing and pursued and did well in, so feel excited about going in that direction.” – Sunita Tendulkar

“We have to help them build that confidence and if we don’t, I feel like they just go in a different direction cause they think they’re not good enough for it and they totally are.” – Laura Miller (CEO, TempDev)

On hindsight being 20/20:

“I think I would tell my 20-year-old self that you belong and that you don’t have to have the best grade in every class and you don’t have to like the same things that people around you are liking – it doesn’t mean that you’re not good at this. I think I suffered a little bit from that when I was younger, and then I got into my career and I actually started living and breathing that world rather than just being educated in that world. I realized I’m here, I’m good, I made my own space and I just wish I would have known that when I was going through it.” – Laura Miller

To hear more from these women, listen to their panel discussion in our on-demand webinar, Cultivating gender equity in STEM.

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