Increasing gender equality in STEM fields

Girl wearing girls code shirt

The call for a more diverse workforce ─ from the big screen to the boardroom to the lab ─ is rightfully a large part of today’s public discourse.

Nowhere is the lack of talented women more apparent than in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The numbers tell a story: Globally, only 8% of female students in higher education are enrolled in engineering, manufacturing and construction, with only 5% in natural science, mathematics and statistics, and a meager 3% in information and communications technology (ICT).footnote1 In the European Union, women account for 17% of ICT specialistsfootnote2, and just 26% of the computing workforce (i.e., positions such as software developers, computer/information research scientists, data scientists, data and cybersecurity professionals, and hardware and network engineers) in the U.S. tech sector are females.footnote3 Women of color are even scarcer.

 

There is no lack of talent or skill to justify the absence of women in STEM fields. In fact, female students often outperform their male peers on standardized tests in STEM subjects.footnote4 Yet young girls remain underrepresented in STEM classes and often face tough barriers to entering STEM careers. These barriers include a lack of visible role models; persistent stereotypes about the STEM abilities of women and men; and broader challenges of gender discrimination and inequity in the workplace.footnote5

Why diversity in STEM matters

Increasing the participation of women in STEM is a business imperative. Between 2017 and 2027, the number of STEM jobs will grow 13 percent, compared to 9 percent for non-STEMfootnote6 jobs and new talent pools will need to meet the rising demand for skilled workers.footnote7 An environment that values diverse perspectives can tap into new levels of creativity that are central to innovation.

The workforce that creates the next big platform, system or device needs to reflect the world that we live in. Given the outsized role that technology plays in our daily life, those in charge will need to be better aware of unintended bias and the consequences. Artificial intelligence (AI), for instance, has been shown to replicate gender biases and stereotypes in everything from image recognition to hiring tools.footnote8 Female developers must be part of the teams that are conceptualizing, building and delivering these applications in order to create products and technologies that serve the entire population.

As new technologies emerge and STEM industries face talent shortages, there is a unique opportunity to draw from and develop an underutilized talent pipeline of women. In making the STEM workforce more diverse, we can tackle biases and reduce barriers for women, creating a mutually reinforcing cycle that pushes us toward greater gender equality.

The path to balancing the equation

Bank of America is committed to a multi-pronged approach to help solve these challenges, beginning with the talent pipeline.

We provide support to Girls Who Code (GWC), a nonprofit that is working to eliminate the gender gap in tech and change the image of what a programmer looks like. Through its Summer Immersion Program—hosted by Bank of America and other partners in cities across the U.S. each year—GWC gives high school girls an opportunity to explore their passion for technology and learn new skills by connecting them with professional women who serve as role models and living proof that a career in STEM is within their reach. This past summer, Bank of America welcomed 200 girls in classrooms in Addison, TX, Charlotte, NC, Chicago, IL, Hopewell, NJ and New York City.

In addition to GWC, we work with groups such as the Girl Scouts of America, Black Girls Code, the National Center for Women & Information Technology, Code First: Girls, STEMettes and Ada, the National College for Digital Skills. Our ongoing work with these partners is a critical piece in ensuring that the next generation of young women view a career in STEM as entirely within their reach.

Developing an empowered workforce

Around the world, 37% of all businesses are owned by women, with nearly one billion women poised to join the workforce globally by 2022.footnote9 It’s estimated that if women around the world were fully engaged in the labor force, as much as $28 trillion would be added to the global economy by 2025.

We recognize the importance of creating an environment that fosters STEM talent and encourages growth. We support women in our workforce in a number of ways: our Global Technology & Operations University program runs an employee group for female technologists and provides digital skills training. The Women’s Executive Development Program leverages the faculty of Columbia Business School to engage, develop, retain and support career advancement of high potential talent. The program includes assessments, virtual development sessions, executive sponsorship and local market engagement opportunities to advance the careers of female participants.

A variety of industry-leading benefits and programs are designed to help employees manage the demanding challenges of work and personal life. Our 16 weeks of paid parental leave allows parents the opportunity to bond with their new children, while our Child Care Plus program offers up to $240 per month, per child, for child care expenses.

Driving forward

Business must work to create and foster a STEM workforce that includes women and builds on the major contributions that women have made to the sector.footnote10 By encouraging future talent – and supporting the immense talent we already employ – we can ensure that future generations of all backgrounds are empowered to lead.

11/5/2020