Women make up about half of the workforce in America, but they only represent 24% of the workforce in STEM fields. Why should we care? First and foremost, this statistic calls attention to an untapped potential; talent that we need in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in order to remain competitive from a global perspective. But for women, this is important on another level because careers in STEM industries offer better compensation and more career advancement opportunities. In fact, women who hold STEM positions earn 92 cents to the dollar versus 77 cents for women who are not in these fields.
Yet, creating a pathway for women to be successful in these industries is a complex problem; one that must be addressed on several different levels in order to be effective. Young girls are not encouraged to study these subjects in school and even if they receive STEM degrees, many are not pursuing careers in these fields or staying in STEM professions. There are also cultural stereotypes that young girls face growing up that discourages STEM career choices, and these biases often start at home at an early age. Hence, the Million Women Mentor program was created with the goal of creating a sustainable pipeline of women by mobilizing and engaging one million men and women to serve as STEM mentors by 2018.
Tata Consultancy Services recently published a white paper on this subject. TCS is a technology provider to Million Women Mentors and a founding partner. I spoke with Balaji Ganapathy, Head of Workforce Effectiveness, North America, and Seeta Hariharan, General Manager & Group Head of Digital Software & Solutions to better understand the issue and this new mentor initiative for women in STEM.
Bonnie Marcus: How does the Million Women Mentors program address the lack of women in STEM?
Balaji Ganapathy: The whole idea of the initiative is to create a pathway. And in order to create a pathway, you need to be all-inclusive, from early childhood and early education, elementary school, middle school, high school through higher education, and early career. Especially since the statistics in the early career phase are very alarming. Entering into the workforce is one part of it. Only 41% of the women who enter into workforce continue in that same kind of job 10 years later. So we need to ensure that we don’t just create more people who are interested in STEM, but we sustain that in the early career phase also.