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The Importance of Diversity in STEM

Did you know that according to Harvard Business review, women are 45% more likely to leave the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industry within 1 year of entering into it? Statistics show that women are in fact underrepresented in these fields, especially in technology, engineering and leadership.

According to UNESCO, men represent the STEM workforce with approximately 70%. Several studies show that some of the main reasons for women leaving their careers in STEM are:

  1. Working in unfair conditions, regarding compensation compared to their male counterparts.

  2. Receiving little support regarding the accommodation of work-life balance.

  3. Not receiving deserved recognition or opportunities for advancement

  4. Often not being able to effectively use their mathematical and science skills because of their superior colleague's doubt.

To celebrate Diversity Month 2021, we decided to highlight the importance of Diversity in STEM, where the main goals is to encourage people with various backgrounds and of all genders to join STEM in order to create a better future and contribute to innovation. To do so, we invited Afshan Hussain, Lisa Pratt, Michelle Scarbrough and Sonali Bhavsar, four prominent and inspiring women from the STEM field, to our Podcast Data, Pharma & Fika to discuss the importance of diversity in STEM and what the field has to lose if the barriers aren ́t broken down. (Listen to the Episode here.) They also shared some of their stories and the experiences gained throughout many years of being in this field, also the work-life balance ability and much more.

Overall, it seems as employers often fall short on providing women environments where their scientific endeavors can flourish. Unfortunately, even within the education, the STEM field has never been outstandingly popular among women. Studies show that female high school graduates chose not to pursue STEM degrees because of:

  1. Lack of encouragement from educators

  2. Negative stereotypes about females who pursue STEM

  3. Undesirable environment in the workforce

Everything comes down to one fact; the STEM field is lacking diversity, which consequently leaves the industry with less innovation, less wide research and less nuance in discussions. Diversity can be defined in different ways, and when it comes to diversity in labor markets, our guest M. Scarbrough shared her definition on diversity and what can be seen as diversity mission :

"Diversity is about having a mix of people in the dancehall. Inclusion is about being asked to dance and belonging is about being asked to dance when you already know the steps”.

Luckily, more and more companies are striving towards creating a more equal working environment for their employees, which has increased women ́s interest in getting engaged with the STEM field. This is very good news, as careers within the field have grown by 79% since 1990, and 82% of today ́s employees value STEM skills even if they are not required for the job. However, STEM skills have shown to increase the chances of becoming employed and earning a higher salary.

STEM within pharma can faithfully change lives. As an example, our guest L.Pratt shared her story where she took part in developing a vaccine named Gardasil, which protects against four types of HVP that can cause cervical cancer in young girls and women. Working on this vaccine has been one of the most influential and memorable experience in STEM for Lisa. Therefore, she is very grateful for her role in STEM and for her lifesaving contribution, which is why she strongly encourages more individuals to join the field so that more life changing innovations can be created and later implemented into our society. That is why diversity is so important. Not only does diversity help us deal with problems in a more innovative way, but it also helps us understand different age, gender or cultural perspectives, and can further break negative stereotypes and personal biases about different groups, leading us to being more open-minded, accepting, and welcoming towards different individuals.

Looking ahead 10 - 20 years from now, it is yet unknown what kind of jobs will exist. But a certain step to realistically shape the future and change the world in a better way is through the STEM field. Basically, by increasing diversity we can further elevate the whole field of STEM, thereby helping all organizations to make an even bigger impact on society with more innovations, solutions, and technology. Diversity is key, let’s use it!


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