Governments and companies should do more to attract and retain women and people from other underrepresented groups to science-related fields, according to a new report co-authored by General Motors Co. Chairman and CEO Mary Barra and Linamar Corp. Chief Executive Officer Linda Hasenfratz.

 

“To leverage the widest possible range of ideas and creativity, we must tap into the entire population in all its diversity,” Barra and Linamar write in “Increasing the Number of Women in STEM,” released yesterday on International Women’s Day, by the Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders. “If half the population is not playing its full role in ground-breaking fields such as artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles, advanced materials and 3D printing, we face a grave risk of debilitating labor shortages and, as a result, slower growth for the entire economy.”

 

In the U.S., 50 percent of middle school girls say they’re interested in computer science, but by high school, less than two percent of young women plan to major in computer science, Barra says. These girls need a path, they need support and they need more role models, she continues. As industries continue to transform, improving access to STEM education isn’t only crucial to the ability to innovate, it helps communities attract and keep good jobs that will drive the future, she says.

 

“Further increasing women in STEM studies and careers is critical to fully harness the potential of 100 percent of our population,” says Hasenfratz. “STEM grads have proven to be great entrepreneurs, starting businesses that employ thousands of people which every economy needs more of. STEM grads are also desperately needed in many existing organizations as well, as they transition through innovation to increasingly sophisticated technical solutions to many tasks.”

 

An education in STEM is one of the most effective tools for launching new businesses, and extensive research has proven the economic advantage of a diverse workforce. While more women are studying and launching successful careers in STEM fields, they still aren’t at parity with their male counterparts in many areas, Barra and Hasenfratz write. Key barriers affecting women’s interest in and pursuit of STEM careers include: conscious and unconscious biases; lack of awareness regarding STEM programs and opportunities; and limited access to female STEM role models and professional mentors, they continue.

 

To overcome these hurdles, the Council has made recommendations across four categories. First, across all four categories, the Council recommends that the Canadian and U.S. governments develop a public-private partnership to create an online STEM portal for teachers, students, parents and businesses which hosts information on STEM career paths, programs and learning tools, and features role models and successful case studies to inspire and motivate. The four recommendation categories are: Communicate and educate, identify and share tool, identify and promote programs, and mentor and empower women in STEM.

 

Within these categories, the Council’s research-based recommendations include:

  • Expand school curricula to include more STEM topics in courses designed to be engaging, and build confidence and increase academic outreach to women,
  • Rethink the approach to post-secondary STEM education through program design, faculty makeup, admission requirements and recruitment efforts,
  • Encourage companies to develop STEM outreach programs and partnerships with academic institutions,
  • Recommend that STEM-centered organizations set participation goals for under-represented minorities broadly, and that corporate partners request this information,
  • Strengthen training to address conscious and unconscious biases, and
  • Develop formal corporate and academic mentorship, role model and retention programs.

 

What are your thoughts on women in STEM fields? Does your company have STEM outreach programs and partnerships with academic institutions? If not, are you aware of any programs at academic institutions in your community?