Corporate Success: The Value of Partnering with Grassroots STEM Organisations
Bridging the Gender Gap and Growing Your Business
The gender gap in STEM education and STEM careers might be gradually getting smaller, but it’s a long way from being resolved. Tech companies can help by supporting, funding, sponsoring, and partnering with grassroots organisations working within communities. This helps spark a passion for STEM and tech education in our girls from a young age. But what’s in it for the tech corporates? As it turns out, plenty. Forbes recently reported that companies need more women in tech. Not just because information technology is such a fast-growing industry, but because Fortune 500 enterprises with 3 or more women leaders saw an ROI increase of 66%. It’s no secret that diverse workforces bring a range of perspectives to the table which naturally aids in innovation. But why is it so crucial that companies reach out to encourage and support girls in tech-related fields?
Girls in STEM Need an Early Start
By the time girls get to high school, there’s a strong likelihood that they and their peers have already been exposed to gender-biased ideas around science, maths, engineering, and technology. Younger minds are more agile and receptive to new ideas. They’re also less likely to carry unconscious bias. Unconscious bias is where our experience prejudices us towards or against things or ideas, usually in a way that’s not based on fact — or fairness. The idea that men and boys are naturally better at STEM subjects comes from hearing it over and over but has no basis in reality. In fact, statistically, girls outperform their male peers time after time. Engaging girls in robotics, 3D printing, coding, and other essential yet fun skills early on helps them develop their passion before they develop this sense of bias. It helps them beat any sense that they “can’t” or “shouldn’t” get involved with STEM education.
Developing Corporate Values
Once tech corporates realise that to build the workforce of the future, they need to invest in girls in STEM programs and courses, they need to figure out how to make that investment work. One idea is to tie that work into the corporate values of the company. Tech companies might pride themselves on honesty, resilience, transparency, or embracing diversity. Supporting a grassroots organisation is a way to develop those corporate values from something on the page of a corporate manifesto, to something very real with measurable results.
It’s also important to understand that building on those corporate values is not about ticking boxes or engaging in a PR exercise. Working with communities either close to the organization or nationally, or even globally, helps a company connect to user, customers, clients, and of course, its future workforce. Companies that are seen to be supporting social and education initiatives are more trusted, more likely to endure, and more likely to attract a higher calibre of applicants from a far wider pool of talent.
Creating a Sense of Belonging
Women in STEM and women in tech-related fields account for only 19% of employees in those industries. One of the reasons for this that we touched on above is that many women and girls don’t feel that they fit into STEM education programs or tech companies. When it comes to skills like programming, data analysis, or coding girls education should be no different to anyone else’s. Yet statistically, of all the students studying university-level STEM subjects, only 35% are female. Reasons for this include:
· Girls feel they’ll be on their own or highlighted as “different” or “nerdy”
· Not enough accessible female role models within tech and STEM industries
· Lack of engagement with tech or STEM education opportunities from a young age
· Lack of evidence that tech companies want to engage with girls and women
This last point is a hard hitter. A prime example is the fact that women and girls account for between 41 and 45% of video game enthusiasts, depending on where you are in the world. Yet games are still largely and enthusiastically marketed towards men. Why would a young woman with a flair for programming want to go into the gaming industry, if she felt that the companies making the games she loves aren’t even doing it for her? Tech corporates need to realise that they’re not only potentially alienating a huge proportion of their potential audience, but also a meaningful segment of their future talent pool — and the next wave of innovation.
The good news is that there are plenty of opportunities for tech companies to get involved with grassroots organisations that are already putting the hard work into bridging the gender gap. Peer to peer workshops, in-person and online, help girls as young as 10 get involved with engaging projects that could start a lifelong passion for engineering, coding, or robotics. Some of these youngsters are already bringing new innovation into the world, as ambassadors for forward-thinking tech companies that know the next big thing is right in front of them. With the help of those types of corporations, these young women can learn more, do more, and will always remember the companies that gave them their first big step up towards their successful career in technology.