For the first time in a decade, the World Economic Forum has reported the situation of global gender gap had worsened for women within 60 countries.
At its current rate, it will be unlikely for women to reach economic parity with men for another 217 years (2234) not very likely for women reach economic parity and as well as in the workforce with men.
Among the various industries that face the issue of gender disparity, the science, technology, engineer and mathematics (STEM) industry is one of the most obvious.
In conjunction with International Women’s Day, TechSideTales had an exclusive interview with Dell Asia Pacific, Greater China and Japan diversity and inclusion head Sophie Guerin to talk about the gender disparity in the STEM industry.
Before kickstarting her career in tech, Guerin was in public policy and economic development as it has always been her passion to empower the minority populations in Asia.
“However, I decided to join the tech industry as I felt it was the most innovative and impactful place to drive change,” she said.
Understanding that Dell is a leader of the driver of change, she jumped right at it when the opportunity arose.
“It has been almost three years since my journey with Dell first began,” Guerin added.
Prior joining Dell Asia Pacific, Greater China, and Japan, she started her career in Asia over a decade and a half ago.
“In the early days of my career, I was often underestimated for being young, and having limited working experience in Asia.”
To overcome this obstacle, she volunteered a lot of her time to work at various chambers of commerce to build her credibility, network, and to improve her skills and expertise.
“Rather than wait for an opportunity to be given, I created opportunities for myself,” she said.
She shared when she started her career in Beijing, China 16 years ago, it was her difficult for a young woman fresh out of college to be taken seriously, especially as a foreigner.
“Despite the circumstances, I was determined to prove myself and committed my time to do volunteer work for the American Chambers of Commerce, to help launch its women’s professional network and committee.
“Over time, that gave me the credibility I needed in the business community and helped me developed entrepreneurial skills to be effective in the workplace,” Guerin added.
In regard to the disparity of women in the tech industry, she has observed there has been a growing recognition that it was not just the responsibility of women to promote in STEM fields but men as well.
“In the past, it has often been seen as only the responsibility for women to speak up and have their voice heard. However, today, there is a recognition because women are in the minority.
“It is necessary for the majority – in this case, men – to advocate on behalf of women as well,” she said.
This would mean sponsorship and mentorship to ensure women are put forward for promotional opportunities and are recognised for their achievements.
Guerin added there has been a growing shift in a number of companies that recognise the success of the ‘He for She’ model and that is something Dell leads in.
Globally, Dell runs the Many Advocating Real Change (MARC, formerly Men Advocating Real Change) programme which actively supports and champions both men and women as advocates for greater female representation, particularly in leadership and technology.
In addition to that, Dell has the Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) initiative, which creates a platform for networking, leadership development, community volunteer opportunities and avenues for driving business results.
“One of the ERGs is Women in Action (WiA), which has thousands of members globally and in Asia.
“The purpose of WiA is to actively build networks, develop leaders and engage our customers,” she said.
She added that Dell Malaysia has the most active WiA resource group in terms of participation and programmes at Dell in Asia Pacific and Japan.
Meanwhile, when asked about the challenges faced by women in the STEM fields, Guerin shared a majority of women in the workforce are constantly challenge on career advancement opportunities, specifically for those who choose to have children.
“There is this term called the ‘leaky pipeline’, where you see a high representation of women in the early stages of their career and they start to drop off when they start having children.
“To ensure that women continue to be considered for career advancement and stretched assignments, for and after that period, it is critical to making sure that we build a sustainable pipeline.”
Another problem that women face in that they tend to have a smaller and more intimate network as opposed to men.
“A smaller network can often hinder a women’s ability to be successful, hence it is important for women to be constantly building their network and expanding it.”
Guerin added Dell investing in women has been a winning business strategy.
“We have formed the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) which aims to connect female entrepreneurs across the globe to grow their networks, sources of capital, knowledge, and technology.
“Women make a critical contribution in every aspect of Dell’s business – employees, leaders, customers, suppliers, and partners.
“We actively provide improved access to capital, technology, networks, and information – areas where women have historically been underserved where we feel we can make a significant impact,” she said.
In regards to how to encourage the next generation of women to join the industry, Guerin said is to start them young.
“Based on a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) report, it stated that girls actually outperform boys – until they hit puberty.
“At puberty, the selective participation of girls in STEM-related subjects and their performance drop. This where we start to see the representation and performance of women in STEM starts to falter.”
According to the research, it found there four key factors to that:
- The way textbooks are written, which has a bias towards boys in STEM fields and girls towards home care responsibilities.
- The teaching methodology used which has a bias toward boys, and rewards and recognises them in STEM, but not girls.
- A cultural context which emphasises more traditional cultural norms such as placing higher importance on girls at home and boys at the workplace.
- Public policies which will encourage actively promoting girls in STEM.
“When you put all these factors together, which starts from puberty, it culminates in the underrepresentation of girls in STEM; as we can see there are fewer girls graduating from university in STEM-related courses.
“What we need is a change of mindset from the individual, societal and cultural viewpoints so girls are afforded equal opportunities to pursue STEM from a young age.”
Guerin added it is critical for organisations to take an active step in helping to promote engagement, passion, and enthusiasm among women around careers in STEM.
One of the things Dell does to encourage women to consider STEM is via the Digital Futures Programmes.
“It is a programme where we get members from WiA ERG to go to schools and talk about what careers in STEM would look like in, in a fun and engaging manner with the students,” she shared.
The programme is designed to encourage students to choose technology subjects when making significant decisions in school.
“Particularly in Asia, there is less of stigma around girls in STEM than you might see in other regions, and this is a great opportunity for organisations looking to tap into female STEM talents.
“However, the challenge is how to attract and retain those talents. Being an employer of choice, making sure you have women in leadership roles is going to help companies to be more competitive.”
Guerin’s advice for the next generation of women who are looking to start their career in STEM is to make sure to start taking up internship opportunities early in their careers.
“Find a mentor or a sponsor and handle as many networking events as you can because the earlier you start building your network, the better that will serve you in your career advancement.”
She said it is inevitable that to face will challenges and struggles; however, it will ultimately be a learning opportunity to become stronger and to develop resiliency and confidence.
“Do not get discouraged if you face challenges early in your career. Take what you can from your experience, learn from it and think how to further improve your skillset and capacity for the future.
“Also keep in mind that challenges exist to teach you more about yourself and the world!”