According to research by World Bank, women are still less likely to enter and more likely to leave the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce. The trend is partly down to fewer women than men choosing to pursue studies in STEM, which is still often related to the quality of education and options on offer. The trend is also impacted by gender equality, a continued under representation of women in digital fields.
I was lucky in that I was fond of math and technology. It was pre-Internet days, and the international technology industry was full of opportunity. I have had the chance to work in some challenging and dynamic fields in my career – from PCs, mobile and 3G boom, cloud, security and AI to harnessing technology to bridge the digital divide. I have been at the very heart of the global digital wave and understand the important role women must play in the fourth industrial revolution.
Digital age role models are invaluable
One of the challenges for young women is finding role models to identify themselves with within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Women need mentors who offer advice on the right life-work balance and provide a positive example of how a woman can forge a successful career in STEM roles. For a start, it is important that women gain solid self-confidence and understand that they do not have to choose between having a family or a career. A good mentor can support motivating women to shape their career goals.
A role model in STEM areas can double the interest girls have towards having a career in the fields. The trend is evident in a European-wide study by Microsoft and validated further by a Microsoft U.S. study representing girls and women of ages 10 to 30 years. While there is no single solution to motivate them, we must explore as many avenues as possible to get them enthused about the digital age. Orange, for example, has run Orange #Supercoders workshops to introduce children between 9 and 13 to computer coding. Feedback is that girls have been very motivated by these coding experiences. Microsoft runs Digigirlz to give middle and high school girls a chance to learn about digital careers.
It is positive to see that female millennials are already seeking out employers with strong diversity records. According to a PwC survey, 85 percent said a company’s policy on diversity, equality and workforce inclusion was an important consideration in accepting a role.
Getting ahead in the digital workplace
Women must be proactive and take on-board some of the responsibilities for their own advancement. Here are five tips from my own experiences that may be helpful:
- Be open to change and moving outside your comfort zone. If you need to move or change job roles to expand your digital skills, for example, it is all part of the career journey. A five-year change cycle is quite common in the field.
- Don’t hesitate to share your goals with your manager or colleagues. Let people know where you want to be and what skills you want to develop.
- Identify and connect with both female and male mentors who can help you in your career path and can act as sponsors within the organization to support your progress. What is most important is that the mentor understands what women can bring to the business.
- Be ready to take risks in gaining more experience – insert yourself in new projects and enjoy learning on the job.
- Finally, be agile, and keep moving forward and embracing the external global shifts and opportunities. STEM fields have numerous job opportunities waiting to be fulfilled and are projected to grow at least 13% until 2027 (iD Tech).
There is no better time to open the digital door
We are in the middle of a digital transformation that is creating a host of opportunities for women, yet according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, women make up only 25.2% of those working in the computer and mathematical occupations. According to the Center for Gender Equality in Science and Technology at Arizona State University, African American and Hispanic women make up less than 12% of the total figure. A similar picture, if not a lower view, is painted across the globe.
This must and will change. Diversity, including gender diversity, is integral for representing the world as it is today with a drive towards a stronger unified economy and integrated global society. According to a McKinsey report, diverse teams are, on average, more creative and innovative, leading to stronger financial performance for their employers. The benefits beckon a call to action for any digital enterprise.
What I appreciate about working with Orange is that gender equality and diversity has great importance in our organization. Having versatility in geographies, cultures and genders is a natural part of the global company culture. Learn more here.
Hélène Auriol Potier is the Executive Vice President International for Orange Business. Her leadership experience extends across various digital transformational fields enriched by her career in the IT and telecommunications industry in positions in the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia during her tenure at Microsoft and Dell. Hélène sits on the Board of Directors of Safran SA and ODDO BHF. She is an avid supporter of women building careers in STEM fields and takes a personal interest in coaching women interested in digital technologies and achieving the right life-work balance.