In this illuminating video, linked below, a teacher introduces a firefighter, a surgeon, and a fighter pilot to her class, and much to the children’s surprise, they’re all women!

Earlier in the video, the teacher asks her class to draw pictures of people working in these professions, and the kids mostly draw men in helmets, holding hoses and wearing uniforms–not women. Even at this early age, the children have adopted the idea that it’s men who fill these roles. Is it a wonder, then, that women continue to be underrepresented in these and other male dominated fields like tech?

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2019 women made up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math professions in the U.S.  It makes us consider how we begin to recruit and retain girls and young women into fields where they imagine only men belong.

One important factor that we can address is the sense of belonging that women and girls feel in their STEM environments. When you feel like you belong, you feel valued and capable. Students who have a sense of belonging are more likely to stay in their field and complete their course of study, according to research shared in the International Journal on STEM education.

A sense of fitting in can be improved when women and girls have role models in their chosen field. This means young women need more exposure to same-gender professors, female student mentors, and even simply hearing more stories of successful women in STEM, says Nilanjana Dasgupta, a researcher at the University of Amherst. For women launching a career in a STEM field, professional mentorship by women, same-gender colleagues, and female leadership make it more likely women will stay.

For those of us who work in STEM, our course seems clear. If we want to see more women come and stay, we need to make sure they can “see it” in our organizations so they can “be it.”  At DiverseIT this is an important part of why we show up every day to do what we do. We know that when women are invited to the table, our organizations are stronger and provide better solutions to our customers.