(BPT) - There is a severe global shortage of women entering careers in Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (STEM). According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women occupy just 28% of STEM careers, despite constituting half of the total workforce. This long-standing problem leaves businesses and institutions chronically missing opportunities and talent.
Those lost opportunities are front-of-mind for many technology CEOs, including Chris Adams, President and CEO of Park Place Technologies, a U.S.-based source for data center hardware maintenance and a full suite of managed services. "The future of the technology industry depends on engaging, supporting and retaining a diverse workforce, including more women," he said. "As a tech company, we believe businesses like ours play a central role in addressing this problem. That’s why we’re actively engaged in designing programs that offer 360-degree support for women interested in careers in STEM, including mentoring, internships and jobs."
Here are three concrete ways employers can engage, support and train young women in STEM careers.
1) High-quality externships
Technology companies play a critical role in shifting outdated perceptions about STEM careers by showcasing the opportunities available to women in STEM. Developing a rigorous, supportive externship means establishing a radically new, highly positive environment for young women from their first day in their chosen field. Of course, not all externships are created equal. The most valuable externships, for all parties, will:
- Provide diverse career training: STEM career training is the most important part of a STEM externship. However, externs should also receive holistic exposure to modern, global business practices and real-world job experience. This is something the Park Place Technologies Women in STEM (WINS) externship program showcases. Young women participate in shadowing employees through myriad modern business scenarios and challenges. The experiences reinforce the importance of flexibility and problem solving. And, because the program is global, participants meet colleagues in other regions and hear about innovative problem-solving techniques used around the world.
- Support and challenge participants: A great externship is equal parts encouragement and ambitious goal setting. One of the best support strategies is engagement from the company’s leadership team — the C-suite. When leadership is an accessible resource throughout the program, participants have their potential as young women in STEM reaffirmed. At the same time, ambitious goals are key to tapping that potential. In the Park Place WINS program, participation culminates in an end-of-externship project presentation to management and C-Suite executives at Park Place Technologies. It’s the combination of active support and high expectations that make the capstone project so impactful and delivers a successful, stimulating experience.
- Nurture leadership skills: In male-dominated fields like STEM, a woman’s experience will be very different, even if a job’s subject matter, roles and responsibilities may be the same. Therefore, it’s important for young women to shadow and see women in leadership positions as role models. This potential difference in experiences should also be reflected in leadership training, so as to provide perspective for females learning about management.
- Lead to job offers: When externships are designed to result in job offers upon successful completion, everyone benefits. Not only will top-quality candidates be attracted, but employers are also incentivized to invest in a robust program providing genuinely valuable experiences.
2) Invest in introducing young women to STEM
Another key to growing women’s participation in STEM majors and careers is supporting and investing in community events. Perhaps the best examples of this is the IWISH program, an Ireland-based, award-winning, volunteer-led community committed to showcasing the potential of STEM careers to female secondary school students.
Since 2015, over 40,000 young women have attended the IWISH program. This year, the event drew a global audience for the first time, with attendees hailing virtually from countries across the globe including Kenya, Singapore, Canada, Peru and the U.S.A.
STEM businesses are investing in the future of their industry by supporting programs like IWISH through donations, event participation and promotion.
3) Innovative, people-oriented management
Ultimately, a company’s culture hinges on the actions and attitudes of management. To that end, management is fundamental to making STEM fields appealing for women to enter and remain within.
Identifying and addressing roadblocks to women's participation requires leadership to be willing to see the opportunity to promote STEM and develop effective programming that is mutually beneficial. By continually offering innovative programs that break down the barriers for women joining the industry, businesses can reinforce positive change.
“Innovation has always been at the heart of our company," Adams said. "It’s how we’ve evolved and grown over the last 30 years into a global organization providing companies around the world industry-leading solutions to help manage critical technology infrastructure. We've also put great emphasis on a positive company culture that listens. Now, we’re using these values to ensure Park Place Technologies, and the technology industry as a whole, steps up to make STEM truly supportive and achievable to women.”