According to a recent study by KPMG, a shocking 73% of female university students don’t plan to pursue a career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Just 37% of young women are confident that they have the tech skills needed by today’s employers, compared with almost three fifths of young men. Significantly, researchers found that the female respondents to the survey have the same level of qualifications as their male counterparts.
These findings are sad but unsurprising. Over the course of my own career I have been struck by the lack of female faces around the boardroom and within the ranks of technology companies in the US and the UK.
Traditionally, the world of STEM has been seen as a male domain – an arena where men are naturally dominant. However, this is outdated stereotype simply doesn’t fit in today’s dynamic world of work and achievement. The lack of gender diversity promoted by this worldview means that technology companies are missing out on a goldmine of untapped talent and creativity.
Biologically, the skillsets of men and women are incredibly diverse, and this fact should be embraced in the tech world. While the STEM sphere is currently lacking female representation across all levels, there are still plenty of talented women making a difference in the technology space. At The Chargeback Company, we’ve recently brought in true industry leaders from Mastercard and RBS and these women are helping us enjoy a golden period of growth as a result! Imagine what could be achieved if women were better represented throughout STEM.
The key to addressing the lack of gender diversity is to push young women onto technology career paths by making STEM education compulsory and doing away with independent subject choice. This may sound extreme, but my own experience tells me this is the right course of action.
My own journey into the world of STEM began when I was at school in the US. My family moved frequently, meaning I was usually late in enrolling in classes. As a result, I often had to take the only courses that had any spaces left – most of the time these were “uncool” technology subjects, like woodwork, mechanics or computer programming.
While being pushed into these classes might not have been enjoyable at first, as an adult I learned to appreciate just how creative and enjoyable they actually were for me. All STEM subjects are about building innovative solutions to problems, which is also incredibly satisfying from an artistic point of view.
I would never have learned this lesson had I not been made to take these classes as a child. If I’d had the choice at school, I would most probably have selected other subjects I was more interested in at the time. Thinking back, I’m glad I didn’t have an option.
I believe it is the same for girls today. STEM subjects are still often perceived as uncool or not feminine, so many young women are put off choosing them at school. And if they don’t opt for these courses on their own, how are they going to get a chance to see for themselves how creative they can be?
By eliminating independent subject choice, we can circumvent the negative preconceptions that are currently deterring women from considering technology and engineering. That way we can ensure that young women have the opportunity to be exposed to these topics while they are at school, so they can learn for themselves just how rewarding they can be. Pushing girls in this manner when they are still young will be beneficial for the future of female-led tech innovations, ensuring the tech sector is able to harness the talent of people who may not otherwise have chosen to pursue STEM as a career.
As an industry, we have a responsibility to ensure we’re affording everyone – boy or girl – the exact same exposure to STEM subjects. Compulsory technology classes at an early age can help us end any remaining gender bias, fostering in a new generation of women who feel strong and confident enough to pursue any job, any career, without any barriers.
Monica Eaton-Cardone is CEO and co-founder of The Chargeback Company