Closing the Gender Gap in STEM Careers: The Role of Networks, Authenticity & Leadership

By Michelle Marlborough, Chief Product Officer

Since AiCure was founded, diversity has been a grounding principle in all that we do – from diversity in our datasets, to diversity in the team behind our solutions. Early on, we realized opening our doors to diverse perspectives and investing in their fulfillment means we can build products that are more inclusive for their customers and create a workplace that best suits the needs of all employees. 

Many women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields are no stranger to being the only woman among a sea of male colleagues. It’s time we think about hiring and retaining female employees in STEM like the scientific research we conduct. One of the reasons we’ve had some massive scientific breakthroughs recently is because of years and years of fundamental research. The same process should be applied to problems like this – it is about getting the fundamentals right. Rather than focusing solely on recruiting women into STEM fields, it’s critical to encourage women of their potential in the early stages of their careers so we don’t lose them along the way. 

Bolstering gender diversity in the STEM industry doesn’t have to mean solving all the challenges women face at once, it can start with the small, foundational steps that will eventually have a big impact. This can include prioritizing building a network of support, creating an environment that celebrates employees who bring their authentic self to work, and thoughtfully and actively ensuring diversity is reflected at every level within your company.

Your Network Is Your Net Worth

As women in STEM, we spend so long striving to prove that we deserve a seat at the table, so we don’t feel like we can let people down – so much so that it can be overwhelming and isolating when you run up against an issue you don’t know how to fix. We often think of networking as making connections to advance your career, but there’s also so much value in building a network of support to lean on from the start, before you even think you need it. Whether a formal or informal set of relationships, having go-to  people who have been in the same shoes can help women in STEM fields feel empowered and know they are not alone. Finding “your people” can take time, and in light of the many pressures we as women in STEM face every day, it is too often placed on the backburner. Instead, women should think about building their network as a key component to being able to do their job to the best of their abilities, rather than feeling guilty investing in it the same way they invest in other professional development activities.

Being Your Authentic Self in The Office

One of the main challenges that we have as women in male-dominated fields is that we spend so much time developing our “business persona,” manipulating behaviors to fit into this male dominated space. Showing up to work inauthentically every day can lead to exhaustion and burnout, and eventually a decision to find another career path. 

When companies create a culture where all employees are comfortable being their authentic selves at work, it can drive personal as well as organizational success. By recognizing what makes each employee valuable and having important conversations around the different backgrounds and strengths we all bring, STEM companies can foster greater employee happiness and loyalty, and that can lead to increased productivity.

As a leader, I try to set up an environment where it’s safe and encouraged for all my employees to be their authentic selves. A large part of setting new positive precedents is leading by example by being kind and taking into account a person’s core values. Being kind doesn’t mean you won’t and can’t make hard decisions – it just means treating people with respect and humanity. Once that environment is cultivated, employees can focus more of their time and energy on doing amazing work.

Reflecting Diversity at Every Level

While fostering an inclusive environment and hiring more female employees are large pieces of addressing the gender gap in the STEM industry, it is equally important to make sure those women see themselves represented throughout all levels within an organization, especially in senior leadership positions, and are encouraged to build a long, fulfilling career. A 2019 study found that companies with executive-level gender diversity were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability. This is key to ensure we don’t lose women in the early years of their career. When women starting out in their professions can see that someone like them has made it to the height of their career in STEM, they can see a path they can forge for themselves to strive for those same achievements and beyond.

Creating an Inclusive Workplace as a Strategic Business Decision

Gender and ethnic diversity are good for business. Business leaders should be working to make the path to success as wide as possible for women, every minority and underrepresented person. I am extremely proud of the inclusive culture we have cultivated at AiCure and the emphasis we place on diversity – from diversity in our data sets, to diversity in perspectives of our team, to diversity in the partners and clients we choose to support. Our efforts are not futile – 46% percent of our employees are women, compared to 25% across the tech industry, and that 36% of our leadership roles are held by women, while that number sits at an average of 21% throughout the STEM field.

I know I am fortunate to have been able to help build an organization that embraces diversity, but not all women find themselves in an organization that does. Learn more about ways we can all do our part to encourage inclusivity in my recent conversation with Taren Grom on PharmaVoice’s Woman of the Week podcast.