LEWAS Impact

Think outside the STEM Box

Bring on the women!

by Nancy Speidel, Founder and CEO, iSAW International

STEM skills in the future will look very different from the past. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math skills are not enough to solve the global environmental and social problems of the future.

The inclusion of women in teams is imperative to maximize business outcomes and enhance performance. Women who hold Computer Science or PHD degrees is great, but we need to expand our approach if the fight against emerging threats and creative innovations that lead to success. Currently women make up roughly ~30 percent of the STEM workforce. Teams need to be comprised of 50% women with different skills, bringing diverse cultural perspectives, capabilities and talent. Only then will companies be able to create a working environment that maximizes their team’s ability to work together to generate the best ideas, increase innovative capacity and find the solutions to the global challenges of the future.

My story – A testament to women and talent outside the “STEM box”

Innovation is most predictable when you have teams, especially mixed teams; mixed in perspective; mixed in academic background (STEM and others); and mixed in gender. My experience is a testament to this and there are several studies which have underpinned the importance of diversity in gender and talent.

My early career aspirations, passion and training was ART. 27 years ago, I was employed in the Information Technology department for a high-tech company as an Illustrator drawing pictures for software being implemented in countries around the world. After a few years of drawing pictures, I was moved onto a software design team as a business analyst and quickly advanced through multiple levels in the organization into Senior Level Leader positions; running major IT programs and developing competitive intelligent IT Benchmarking capabilities. I led the design, development, implementation, and maintenance of custom-built software automating highly complex global supply chains across multiple functional disciplines. I also created and ran competitive intelligence benchmarking programs for two major fortune 100 companies, helping my organizations identify their weaknesses and improve their capabilities.

My ART skills were my greatest asset, not because I could draw pictures, but because I could visualize the unimaginable. I was the person who picked up the marker and went to the white board to bring to life the ideas the team was discussing. My creative side helped me design software, build benchmark models, solve complex problems, tell stories with data and communicate through visuals.

You are now starting to hear the term “STEAM” which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. Organizations are now increasingly starting to recruit more arts graduates, recognising the creative thinking needed to stimulate innovation, in addition to the core STEM based skills. The “STEM box” is not the only source of skills for the future.
Women are the untapped resources

Current literature showcases the value women add to business outcomes, team productivity, innovation and complex problem solving. Two studies by MIT and Google researched the characteristics of high performing teams. Together these two studies underpin both gender and behavioural inclusion. The conclusion of both studies is women and feminine traits maximizes team performance needed to generate the best outcomes. The MIT study also concludes, it is not a few women who make an impact, the best outcomes come when women are 50% of the team. The studies also demonstrate it is not the IQ or degree level of the team that makes a difference, it is feminine leadership traits such as emotional intelligence, actively listening and equal participation that generates the best outcomes.

Therefore, women and feminine behavioral traits are imperative to help tackle the global challenges of the future.
Think beyond the “STEM box”.

In the war for talent it has been estimated that STEM jobs will increase by 8% through 2029, compared to 3% for other occupations, while roughly only 30% of STEM roles are currently held by women.

There is a push to get more women into STEM roles, but many women are not interested in STEM as they select their early career choices. This is where companies need to think beyond the “STEM box”, not only to attract more women, but to obtain more diverse talent and skills. Forward thinking organizations need to recruit a broader set of skills to compete, not limiting themselves just to STEM roles. Key skills range from technical, leadership, marketing, training, data management, communications, language skills, artistic creativity and many others.

A race against time – Winning the race with Women

Companies don’t have time to wait until 50% of the STEM graduates are women. Pressing challenges are facing the world today and women are needed to optimize team performance to meet those challenges. Companies need to step outside the “STEM box” and increasingly bring women into roles from various backgrounds. Those who wait for women with STEM degrees to build their team capabilities, will lose the race against time and their competition.

About iSAW:
iSAW, or International Strategic Accelerator for Women, who through their platform, help women across the globe interact with international thought leaders and subject matter experts to enhance their career fulfilment.
To know more about iSAW, visit isaw.org.
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