During my decades as a female financial advisor working with female clients I have had my share of working in a male-dominated industry. This is why I am a supporter of women who want to blaze new trails in industries that are now becoming more diverse.
Through Financial Coaching, Retirement Planning, and Investment Management, my clients know their future is brighter. I enjoy working with women from all walks of life, whether science and technology or other fields.
The world of science and technology is still a male-dominated industry. Women are often subject to gender discrimination, both inside and outside the workplace, which limits their growth opportunities.
However, there are plenty of reasons why diversity in STEM fields benefits everyone - not just women. If you're a woman, you may have heard that science is better with women. But what does this mean? Why do we say it? And what can we do to make it accurate?
Well, let's start at the beginning. Women are underrepresented in science. According to data from the National Science Foundation (NSF), they make up less than 30% of the STEM workforce, and that number has yet to budge much since 2006 despite efforts by organizations like AAAS and other groups dedicated to promoting diversity in STEM fields.
Women also face challenges when it comes time for promotions. According to an analysis conducted by Nature Communications last year, female academics are less likely than their male counterparts to be promoted at major research universities across Europe and North America. Moreover, those who do receive promotions tend not only to earn less money but also report lower job satisfaction levels than men doing similar jobs who weren't promoted at all.
We are seeing a surge in women attending college and seeking Ph.D.-level degrees, but without the societal support structure, these women may not experience the long-overdue reward of such rigorous academic work.
The Benefits of Diversity in Science
Diversity is the key to solving problems and making scientific breakthroughs. It's also the reason why women belong in science.
Diversity allows us to see things from different perspectives, which helps us come up with more creative solutions. When everyone around you looks and thinks like you, it can be challenging to see outside of that box, and when we're talking about solving problems as complex as climate change or cancer treatment, creativity is absolutely critical.
Another benefit? Diversity helps reduce bias in research by bringing together people who have different backgrounds and experiences than those who may otherwise be working on a project alone (or with only other men). This leads to better results and more informed decision-making processes at prominent institutions such as universities or government agencies.
Of course, we want these decisions to be made based on research findings. That could mean less wasted money spent on projects that don't succeed because they weren't appropriately researched in the first place.
The Historical Exclusion of Women from Science
You may be wondering how women were excluded from science for so long. The answer is simple - we weren't allowed to go to school, work in labs, or become doctors and astronauts until fairly recently.
Women were not allowed to attend universities until the 1850s when the first women's college (Mount Holyoke) was founded by Mary Lyon in Massachusetts. It wasn't until 1935 that New York University opened its doors to female students, and even then, only 5% of all undergraduate degrees awarded went to women.
In fact, it wasn't until 1978 that Harvard University had its first female president, and she only served one term before resigning amidst controversy over her salary compared with her male predecessor's compensation package.
Current Challenges Facing Women in Science
While some progress has been made, women are still underrepresented in science. Women are still paid less than men for the same work. There are cultural issues at play here. Even UNESCO research showed that women were discouraged from STEM-related fields across eight Asian countries. This is because women had to fight ideas like:
- The perception STEM is “inappropriate” as a career and would dissuade men from seeking those women for marriage.
- Any career, science or not, takes attention away from the domestic expectations of a woman.
- There is an unreliable support structure in STEM and a lack of forward mobility – meaning women will not be able to succeed.
This means even in those homes where fathers, brothers, and husbands are considered “progressive” for their support of the women in their lives, they still discourage them because they do not see a successful pathway forward. That is highly discouraged and should be fought against with every ounce of our well-being.
Then you have the gender pay gap to somehow manage. Considering you have just spent the last 8-11 years of your professional career achieving new levels of education, you will need a higher salary to pay back student loans and reap the benefits of such a background. The same is true for research funding. Many organizations prefer to fund projects based on male leadership instead of female-run research.
Strategies for Supporting Women in Science
The first step to supporting women in science is to make sure they are visible. Young girls and boys alike must-see women in leadership positions and recognize them as role models. This will help dispel the idea that "girls aren't good at math" or "women can't be engineers."
Another strategy is building relationships with other women in your field - both colleagues and students - so that you all have a support network when things get tough or stressful. Making these connections can also give you opportunities to mentor one another, which can help build confidence and professional development skills among those around you who may not feel confident enough yet about their abilities in their chosen career paths.
Other ideas for supporting women in science include:
- Finding quality mentorship programs and leaders willing to take new scientists and technocrats under their wings.
- Fostering more associations and events for women-led networking where we get out of our way and connect with incredible peers in our fields.
- Having critical decision-making processes include women's voices, especially in underrepresented STEM fields.
- In those countries where STEM is still a taboo, we need a shift to flexible working arrangements. This way, the progression of domestic goals slowly fades away when the benefits are seen across all levels.
In addition, institutions need to create a safe and inclusive workplace where all employees feel welcome regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Instances of assault or discrimination need to be taken with the utmost seriousness and dealt with appropriately, so everyone knows it is no longer acceptable.
Need Some SheHeros Examples?
When she was only 26 years old, Jane Goodall began her groundbreaking research on wild chimpanzees in Tanzania. Her work has led to a better understanding of primate behavior and helped us learn more about our own origins as humans. In addition to being an influential scientist, Dr. Goodall has also been an outspoken advocate for animal rights and environmental conservation throughout her career as well as her personal life (she's vegetarian!).
How about Regina Agyare, who is a social change activist in West Africa leveraging her software developer background to create multiple technology startups disrupting the industry. Or Katherine Freese, who is a physics professional developing a revolutionary theory about a new kind of star.
The list goes on and on and on. We have endless examples of incredible women doing everything they can to change how they are viewed in a male-dominated industry. With more recognition and support from all their peers, we can approach a day when women are no longer stigmatized for their choices but celebrated as equals in pursuit of their dreams and ambitions.
We Can Help
We've seen the power of women in science, but there is still so much work to do. You can be part of the solution by supporting women in your own field and encouraging others to join us as well. As we continue this journey together, we hope that someday soon, we will reach a point where we no longer need to talk about diversity--because it won't matter anymore.
Our team at Meyers Financial Service focuses on women-led careers by offering tailored financial advice. We can help organize your current situation and help you better prepare for retirement, research, college, and more. Give us a call today and let our female-led professionals provide the insight and support you need for the next stage in your STEM career.
Lillian Meyers CFP®, CDFA®, EA is a Financial Planner for Women in Sonoma, California helping clients live their best life through the use of financial planning, investment management, and other sophisticated financial options.