Executives Say Women in STEM Jobs Help the Bottom Line

Fewer women than men make up the tech labor pool, but the number is growing

By Aliah D. Wright Jun 9, 2016
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Although 63 percent of executives say having women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) roles at their company helps them be more profitable, 30 percent say their organization does not require that female candidates constitute part of their recruitment pool.

The statistics are from a recent Futurestep study conducted by Los Angeles-based Korn Ferry, a global people and organizational advisory firm. Korn Ferry polled nearly 1,000 executives worldwide.

“Clients who understand the positive cultural and financial impact of having women in STEM roles often require that women candidates be included in the recruiting mix,” Samantha Wallace, Futurestep Technology Market Leader for North America, stated in a news release. “This doesn’t mean that the women will get preferential treatment. It simply helps create a diverse pool from which to choose.”

Recent statistics show that women are significantly underrepresented in STEM careers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women now comprise 57 percent of the U.S. workforce. Yet, the U.S. Census Bureau reports, they make up only 26 percent of workers in STEM fields.

Experts say STEM jobs are critical to America’s global competitiveness and economic development. Nearly one-quarter of digital leaders say they believe diversity and inclusion are key to business success, and one-third link financial performance to diversity, according to Patricia Fletcher, SAP’s head of Global Cultural Transformation for SAP Global Marketing. Fletcher spoke at SAP’s Sapphire Now Conference, held recently in Orlando, Fla. SAP is a global software company based in Germany.

More Money, Fewer Candidates

Companies “that are diverse out-perform financially and are more innovative,” Fletcher added.

And although STEM jobs typically pay more—according to the U.S. Department of Education, STEM workers earn on average $65,000 annually—these jobs can be hard to fill. This “reinforces the notion that computer science has become a basic requisite for 21st century jobs,” according to the White House.

But research from the White House reveals “there is currently a mismatch between the supply and growing demand for STEM-skilled workers.”  

The Obama administration has made increasing the number of women in STEM fields a priority for a variety of reasons. Today, there are more than half a million unfilled jobs in information technology across all sectors of the economy. “Economic projections indicate that by 2018, there could be 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs,” according to the Whitehouse.gov website.

Persistent diversity challenges are compounding this gap, experts say. While women and minorities comprise 70 percent of college students, less than 45 percent of those students earn STEM degrees, the White House says.

In the Futurestep survey, most respondents said less than a quarter of the high school girls and college women they know (for example, their children, grandchildren, children of friends/colleagues) are considering STEM careers.

“There are many reasons why today’s companies have a low percentage of female STEM workers, including the fact that fewer young women than young men are choosing this field as their college major and profession,” said Wallace. “The silver lining, though, is that we do see a slow, but positive trend for more women in these roles.”

When asked about the number of women in STEM positions at their organization now as compared to five years ago, 8 percent of respondents said there are fewer women, 33 percent said there are about the same amount of women and 59 percent said there are more women.

While that last number is encouraging, employers may nonetheless stand to benefit from taking an active approach. 

According to Korn Ferry, 58 percent of respondents said “having an employee referral program targeted toward women STEM recruits would have a great impact on finding qualified candidates.”

“We see that companies that make diversity efforts core to their recruiting and retention strategies have a better chance of attracting and keeping the most dedicated, engaged and productive employees,” Wallace added. “It’s no surprise that our survey respondents say that they expect having more women STEM employees will have a positive impact on financial performance.”

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor and manager for SHRM.

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