The gender gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is a well documented issue, and one that is greatly holding back the industry, perhaps more so than in any other field. There is a tremendous benefit to be gained from having a diverse team when it comes to promoting innovation and new ideas, as has been documented in numerous studies, yet these benefits are currently not being realized.
This would be easy to blame on a lack of women interested in the field, and failures at school and college level to get women involved. However, the research does not reinforce this. Female scientists and engineers make up 41% of entry and mid-level professionals, yet 52% of these quit their jobs by mid-career. This suggests that STEM industries are failing to create an environment that women can work in.
The causes of this gender gap are complex and the solutions varied, but we must remember gender inequality is equally an issue for men as it is for women and, therefore, men are an important part of these solutions. Women and girls need support to overcome the structural barriers preventing them from reaching their full potential - the isolation of being the only female in the class or office, the unconscious bias when applying for jobs or research grants, the need to provide greater proof for their research than their male counterparts.
The role of men in feminism is a complex issue. Unfortunately, some men remain at best indifferent to the term feminism, and some actively hostile. One of the primary difficulties lie in the definition. Men cannot really be feminists in the same way that whites cannot really be black nationalists, but they can still be allies and supporters. For a start, there is at the very least a perceived problem of sexual harassment in STEM with cases like Hong v. Facebook and reports of sexual harassment at Google from Kelly Ellis reinforcing this. The main cause of which is the huge power imbalance between established male professionals and young female scientists. Such harassment needs to be confronted wherever it appears. The more obvious harassment will be hidden, but appearance-related compliments and throwaway supposed ‘jokes’ are commonplace, but with more awareness we can stop this. There needs to be culture in which women are valued for their intellectual achievements, and while they are still in the minority, they will be more reticent to confront inappropriate behavior themselves if they don’t feel supported.
To best facilitate this, STEM companies should consider implementing diversity training seminars. Unfortunately, it is also often deeply ingrained to ask certain questions of women but not of men, which creates an unwelcoming environment for women. There are certainly differences between the sectors, but these should not have any impact on their ability to work. Being confronted with inequality on a daily basis is extremely off-putting, and limits ambition.
Fundamentally, though, these are things that should be expected as a matter of course. We need to make men more aware of their important role and influence in the gender equality debate. There need to be fundamental changes, and policies put in place that better serve female needs.
As it stands, the majority of CEOs are men and they need to be involved in the conversation about what happens outside of work too, to better implement real change in the office. For instance, women are still usually the primary care givers in families, and more must be done to reflect this. Scheduling important meetings within school hours, for one, helps to ensure that researchers with child-care duties can attend. Better child care facilities is another way of encouraging women with families into the workplace. Ultimately, women need to stop being thought of as an abnormality. It should not be up to women to adapt to a culture that treats them negatively, it should be the culture that adapts to them. With a wider cooperation amongst men we can make this happen.