This blog was posted on HR.com’s website here.
Women hold more than half of the college degrees awarded each year, but represent only 25 percent of college-educated STEM employees. As a new graduate, it is daunting to enter your career not only as a woman, but a woman who is a minority among her peers.
I began my career in technology more than 30 years ago and my company 20 years ago. For context in 1998, Google was in its very first year of existence, and companies were only beginning to build e-commerce and informational websites. As a woman in STEM I strived for equality, diversity, and a successful technology company. To my peers, that might have seemed overly ambitious, but if you want to be a trailblazer, sometimes you have to do what you think is right and not focus on what other people think. Fortunately I wasn’t wrong; more gender diverse workplaces have been shown to increase bottom-line revenue by 41 percent. Overall, employees are also more productive and engaged when they work in a diverse environment.
As female STEM graduates, there are four concrete suggestions I share with my organization regularly — and with you — to find support and foster an inclusive workplace and an inclusive society as a whole.
1. Seek mentorship outside the majority: Connect and network in areas that fit your passion and desires for a career, but aren’t necessarily typical. Are you an aerospace engineer? Network with those who also engineer in software and manufacturing. You’ll be surprised what you learn about solving problems from different industries. Think about other minority professional groups where your insights could be valued, and likewise their ideas and brainstorming power will be beneficial to you too.
2. Understand and improve your own unconscious bias: We all make decisions with unconscious bias. As long as we are human, this will be the case. When men and women were asked to review two identical resumes with a man’s name on one, and a female’s on the other, both groups rated the male resume as more capable and suited for the position, even though skills and experience listed were identical! When you understand that unconscious bias exists — even within yourself — you become aware of your own decisions and statements in meetings, when hiring new employees, advising the C-suite, or even your interaction with colleagues day-to-day.
3. Progress, not perfection: Avoid striving for perfection all the time. That isn’t the way the world works, especially in innovative career fields like science, engineering and technology where trial and error are key. Don’t be afraid to take risks when you think you have a solution or want to try something new. Failure doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it means you’ve found something that doesn’t work. Use it as an opportunity to improve your methods about a business challenge. When you know what doesn’t work, you open your mind to other ways of interpreting and resolving challenges.
4. You’re in the room for a reason: Use your voice and raise it when you want to share your insight and perspective. That’s how you’ll be heard and start a real dialogue to solve complex business issues. Maybe everyone else hasn’t heard that idea before, or maybe no one has considered something you see as a barrier to solving that issue. True invention and progress requires all the brains in the room, not just brains from one gender or race. Find ways to ask what others have to say, and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you want clarification or more information about something that interests you.
5. Sponsor and mentor young STEM minds: Whether it’s a woman or someone else in a minority group, lead the charge and help others gain footing where you’ve already learned to connect. It takes more than one empowered woman to make a difference. By fostering young minds, you’re helping STEM grow faster and healthier, with more diversity. Get involved in urban groups that help youth make career decisions, or join Big Brothers Big Sisters. Invite your friends to come along. Humans are inherently designed for relationships with others, and one person you listen to or advise could easily become a future leader.
More than ever, women are taking CEO positions in companies all over the world, but it still isn’t nearly equal. There will be discouraging times in your career, but the only way to increase female STEM graduates and business leaders is to become one yourself. Keep your foot in the door by seeking professional development opportunities and speaking out when you have something to say. Remember where you came from and help other women along the way. After all — to paraphrase — we have to be the change we want to see in our world today.