STEM Day: Female tech experts share their thoughts

STEM Day takes place annually on 8th November, serving not only as an opportunity to celebrate the successes across the across the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sectors, but to reflect on what must be done to improve it. Unfortunately, women still only make up a mere 24% of the STEM workforce. So, what can be done to encourage and retain women in STEM?

Female experts from leading tech companies share their thoughts:

Encouraging confidence in women

“We need to encourage women to believe in themselves and be confident in following their chosen path - whether it is the sciences, tech, humanities, sport, or the arts.” Liz Parnell, COO, EMEA, Rackspace Technology argues. “My advice to women: get in there! See yourself succeeding and don’t fear the unknown. Back yourself and use your talents to make a positive difference. Be unapologetic about your accomplishments and expertise.”

Najla Aissaoui, Talent Acquisition & HR manager, Venari Security agrees: “For girls and women looking at a career in STEM, never underestimate your power and skills. Don’t be afraid to try and fail, just make sure to learn from your failures.”

“Women need to have the confidence to join STEM careers. Part of this confidence comes from understanding that working in STEM isn’t just something women should do because diversity targets need to be hit.” Sue-Ellen Wright, Managing Director of Aerospace Defence and Security, Sopra Steria, says. “They need to understand these opportunities can provide them with incredibly fulfilling careers, offering them variety, challenges, a sense of purpose, and tangible outcomes.”

Caroline Vignollet, SVP Research & Development, OneSpan encourages women to embrace their identity as a woman in the workplace: “While I always present myself as a professional in the workplace, and not a woman, I do believe bringing a feminine approach to a solution, strategy, team building and thinking helps bring a different perspective to the given environment. We need to celebrate differences and ensure we are all learning from each other to further innovation and progress.”

Pantea Razzaghi, Head of Design, Automata encourages women to not bow down to pressure: “For women in STEM, it can feel like there’s added pressure to succeed and even outperform, as the industry is still very much male-dominated. However, often we are our biggest critics. My advice for young women early into their science and engineering journey will be to not dwell on mistakes for too long. Mistakes are a critical part of scientific discovery – that’s how innovation works.”

“My sincere advice; don’t listen too much to what others have to say about you or your ability to thrive in this sector.” Renske Galema, Area VP, North EMEA at CyberArk adds. “Follow your own mind and find the fun in continuous learning.”

Paving the way through education

“STEM Day comes as a needed reminder that we must continue to encourage girls and women to study STEM subjects and provide opportunities that will help them to develop skills in the space.” says EJ Cay, VP UKI, Genesys.

Estella Reed, Head of People, Distributed argues that the sector should be encouraging those non-STEM backgrounds into tech too: ““To increase diversity in the tech workforce, alongside meeting the increasing demand for talent, businesses cannot afford to limit their talent pool to only applicants that have studied a STEM degree. Many of the best software engineers working in the industry, for example, come from arts and humanities backgrounds.”

Accessibility to education is key, Jamie Lyon, Vice President of Strategy and Development, Lucid Software notes: “It's important for STEM-related educational and career development opportunities to be more accessible to women. These build a foundation of interest and technical skill sets for women wanting to enter the tech industry.”

Women need to be able to access the same educational opportunities as their male peers to succeed. “Recent research shows that men are over a third more likely to receive digital upskilling than their female counterparts.” Mairead O'Connor, Exec for Cloud Engineering, AND Digital  observes. “This needs to change.”

For Poornima Ramaswamy, Chief Transformation Officer, Qlik, this education should include data and digital skills: “We must ensure girls are taught relevant data and digital skills at an early age to prepare them for the increasingly data-centric world we now live in. Our research also found business leaders and employees alike predict that data literacy will be the most in-demand skill by 2030.”

Businesses need to be proactive

It’s important that businesses and institutions are making the effort to improve gender diversity in their own workforces. Liz Parnell, COO, EMEA, Rackspace Technology adds: “There is no excuse in 2022 not to have balanced, diversified, and inclusive teams. Teach unconscious bias as part of your company onboarding; and walk the talk every day with your policies, behaviours, and level of transparency.”

Laura Malins, VP Product, Matillion remarks on a reason why gender diversity in the STEM workforce is low: “Evidence suggests that men are likely to apply for a role even if they meet just 60% of the criteria, whereas women tend to only apply for jobs if they are a perfect fit. This tells me that the potential of women in STEM is still yet to be fully realised and many fruitful opportunities remain untapped by deserving female candidates.”

Katherine Church, Tech+ Director, Grayce gives an insight into health tech, advocating for increased funding for women-led tech: “Despite the sector having strong female leaders in the NHS, with the national CIO and CTO being women, we continue to overlook providing the right funding and support for women pursuing STEM careers in health at every level. We need to increase the levels of VC and PE funding for Femtech and female founders so that women’s health issues and careers are properly addressed.”

“Businesses need to make a conscious effort to recruit employees from a diverse range of backgrounds.” Clare Loveridge, VP and General Manager EMEA, Arctic Wolf states. “This will allow businesses to attract more talent and develop more creative ways of thinking, contributing to the development of highly innovative solutions to the complex challenges facing leaders today.”

Siobhan Ryan, Sales Director Ireland and Scotland, UiPath remarks on how businesses can help their female workforce: “Businesses need to ensure women are inspired and able to contribute, participate and enjoy their roles. Mentoring programmes, community networks, and supported learning opportunities can help women to grow and succeed.”

Businesses need to carefully think about their approaches diversity and inclusion strategies to make change, argues Pam Maynard, CEO, Avanade: “Fundamentally, there is an issue with the way some organisations approach DE&I, only paying it lip service to keep employees happy and avoid difficult conversations. It's time for change, and diversity needs to be tackled head on and from the very top.”

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