Moving the Needle: Women in STEM and Why Gender Balance Matters

May 19, 2016

Moving the Needle: Women in STEM and Why Gender Balance Matters

In Korn Ferry Futurestep’s latest executive survey, the majority of respondents (63 percent) said having more women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers would have a “great impact” on their company’s bottom line. A number of research studies tying diversity to better financial performance support their view.

Fortune 500 companies with at least three female directors have seen return on invested capital increase by at least 66 percent, return on sales increase by at least 42 percent, and return on equity increase by at least 53 percent, according to The Case for Investing in Women report from the Anita Borg Institute.

It’s not just the bottom line that’s positively impacted by greater gender balance. A more diverse leadership team has also been linked to improved operational performance and greater innovation.

Calls for gender diversity have been heard for decades, but only recently has the conversation shifted from one based on fairness and equality to one rooted in better business practices.

A Greater Divide in Technology

While women comprise 48 percent of the U.S. workforce, they comprise just 26 percent of STEM workers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). In other words, about half as many women are working in science, technology, engineering, and math jobs if gender representation among STEM professionals were to mirror the overall workforce.

The disparity is the result of many factors. Aspects of organizational culture within the technology space, certain managerial behaviors, and even particular female tendencies have prevented women from advancing within their organizations in greater numbers. These factors are also to blame for women opting out of the industry before they have the chance to advance.

There also just aren’t that many women in STEM. Only 16 percent of respondents to the Futurestep survey said more than half of the college-age women they know are pursuing STEM degrees. Fewer young women than young men choosing to pursue STEM careers has led to a very smalland highly desirablecandidate pool.

If technology companies are going to reap the benefits of a more gender diverse workforce, they need to find innovative ways to attract female STEM talent now and for the future.

What Companies Can Do

Organizations that understand the positive cultural and financial impact of having women in STEM roles often request female candidates be included in the recruiting mix. Some insist at least one woman be presented within each slate of candidates. Others have set KPIs to drive the number of female candidates identified for each role. These initiatives are helping to move the needle, albeit slowly. Despite the pressure for progress, companies must be vigilant against making the hiring of women in STEM a box-checking exercise.

To see real progress, we need more girls and young women to pursue STEM careers. Taking a long-term view, companies like Verizon and Ericsson are engaging with students at the grade-school and university levels to promote the exciting career opportunities available to those with STEM backgrounds. While Verizon’s female executives are speaking at STEM events, those at Ericsson are contributing time and money to Robogals, an organization that aims to increase female participation in math and sciences.

Cultivating the next generation of female professionals to more readily embrace STEM careers is the most viable long term way to correct the gender disparity. Until those young women are ready to join the workforce, companies can adopt recruiting practices to engage qualified female candidates and be early recipients of the benefits of a diverse workforce.

The Authors: 

Samantha Wallace is the technology sector leader, North America, at Korn Ferry Futurestep.

Comments (1)

Yes, and I would add, once more women are recruited, organizations can invest in leadership development that is specific for what makes women effective.