Women make up about half of the workforce in America, but they only represent 24% of the workforce in STEM fields. Why should we care? First and foremost, this statistic calls attention to an untapped potential; talent that we need in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in order to remain competitive from a global perspective.
But for women, this is important on another level because careers in STEM industries offer better compensation and more career advancement opportunities. In fact, women who hold STEM positions earn 92 cents to the dollar versus 77 cents for women who are not in these fields. Yet, creating a pathway for women to be successful in these industries is a complex problem; one that must be addressed on several different levels in order to be effective.
Young girls are not encouraged to study these subjects in school and even if they receive STEM degrees, many are not pursuing careers in these fields or staying in STEM professions. There are also cultural stereotypes that young girls face growing up that discourages STEM career choices, and these biases often start at home at an early age.
Hence, the Million Women Mentor program was created with the goal of creating a sustainable pipeline of women by mobilizing and engaging one million men and women to serve as STEM mentors by 2018. Tata Consultancy Services recently published a white paper on this subject. TCS is a technology provider to Million Women Mentors and a founding partner.
I spoke with Balaji Ganapathy, Head of Workforce Effectiveness, North America, and Seeta Hariharan, General Manager & Group Head of Digital Software & Solutions to better understand the issue and this new mentor initiative for women in STEM.
Bonnie Marcus: How does the Million Women Mentors program address the lack of women in STEM?
Balaji Ganapathy: The whole idea of the initiative is to create a pathway. And in order to create a pathway, you need to be all-inclusive, from early childhood and early education, elementary school, middle school, high school through higher education, and early career. Especially since the statistics in the early career phase are very alarming. Entering into the workforce is one part of it. Only 41% of the women who enter into workforce continue in that same kind of job 10 years later. So we need to ensure that we don’t just create more people who are interested in STEM, but we sustain that in the early career phase also. And that can be different pathways. It can be one-on-one mentoring which is face-to-face. It can be online; it can be internships; it can be on-the-job shadowing. Or, it can be sponsorship which involves carrying the woman through early career into the first few steps into their career. And, in order to do that, we need people from all different industry sectors: from public sector, entrepreneurs, all to come together. So what’s different about this initiative? It’s “all hands on deck” approach. By mobilizing a million men and women to sign up and pledge as mentors, you create that pool of people who can be paired up with these young girls and women. And the second aim, as the next stage progresses for Million Women Mentors, is to create resource pool for best practices in mentoring; what works? What works in what contexts?” What works in early childhood would be different from what works in early career. What works in school is different from what works in informal learning, or out-of-school programs. So it is to identify those, capture those, and share that – as best practices. And also, create a body of knowledge of mentoring. Which is why organizations like MentorNet and National Girls Collaborative Project and NPower, are important partners.
Marcus: Seeta, what is your perspective on mentoring women in STEM?
Seeta Hariharan: This is something I’m very, very passionate about. I didn’t grow up with prejudice. I am from India and I never grew up with that. I was really blessed that way, because my mom was a very strong woman; my grandmother was a very strong woman. And I went to a private school, so I was very protected. So I have to tell you that the thought of what a woman can do versus what a man can do never ever crossed my mind. I’ve been here in U.S. for several years and some of my colleagues tell me that, even in their own homes here in this country there has been prejudice at home. One of the folks that used to work for me told me that in her family there were 2 girls and 2 boys. And the way that they were coached on what they could do as a boy was, for the boys – very different than the women. So what we should be doing in the formative years; encouraging them to get into the science education, technology education fields, I dearly believe that is a responsibility that each of us need to take. And I also believe, whether it is in the early stages of your career, mid stages or advanced stages, mentors play a very, very key role.
Marcus: What advice do you give young women in STEM about mentoring?
Hariharan: I actually tell them that you don’t just choose one mentor. And it’s not necessary for you to choose a mentor that’s right at the top of the ladder. You don’t have to have a CEO as your mentor. You have to choose someone that is willing to give you the time. And I also tell them that mentors can come in various forms. So you may want to have a mentor, as an example, that could help you understand your own strengths and weaknesses. Another mentor might help you to understand organization dynamics. Another mentor could help you to build a network within the organization so that you’re effective in navigating your career path that you juggle for yourself. So I always tell women that, you’ve got to have more than one mentor. When you pick a mentor, choose someone that you can give something back to. If you can give more than you receive, it will be pretty good, in my opinion.
Marcus: What are you looking for in a mentor and what type of commitment do they need to make?
Ganapathy: A mentor can be anybody who is willing to give back and has the time available to do that. So, from a commitment point of view, we’re looking at 20 hours annually. Which means that, it’s just about 1-2 hours a month that they need to spend on mentoring a young woman, an early career woman. And, there are different pathways that we are prescribing. So it’s not a “one size fits all.” You can do face-to-face mentoring. You can do online mentoring. You can do internships at your institution – whether it is a public, private, or entrepreneurs-led institution. You can have workplace mentoring, or job shadowing. You can also do sponsorships.
Marcus: If people are interested in becoming a mentor, what action can they take?
Ganapathy: The immediate next step they can take is to go to MillionWomenMentors.org and sign up to be a mentor. There’s a pledge form that’s available, and there’s a counter that also tells us how many mentors have signed up so far. So they go in, and they enter their details – either on their own personal behalf, or if they are an organization, they can enter on the organization’s behalf, also. And once they sign up – either as an individual or as an organization or a governmental entity or entrepreneur-led organization. Then there are a whole slew of opportunities that are available with the different non-profit partners who are part of the network. And the Million Women Mentors team – which is, right now, led by STEMConnector – which is a group based in Washington, DC – and is very much focused on the STEM education and careers issues – they help with the next steps, in terms of identifying and mapping those opportunities. Marcus: How is the initiative doing so far?
Ganapathy: In the first 8 to 10 weeks, we already have 50,000 people signed up to be mentors and the number grows every day!