As President of WEConnect International, I wake up every day looking for opportunities to give women business owners worldwide an equal chance to compete and prevail. Nowhere does that appear harder than in those companies requiring STEM expertise and with significant STEM needs in their supply chain.
I know this because prior to joining WEConnect International, I had spent the vast majority of my career in the engineering industry, a traditionally male-dominated field. But believe it or not, for the longest time I was actually blind to that. That’s because I came from a family of engineers: my grandfather, father, uncle and brother were all engineers, and so I fit right into the environment: I talked the talk, blended right in, and never thought much about how unusual my own situation was. In fact, I didn’t really notice anything different for many years.
Then one day the world started talking about STEM and the dearth of women in these careers. Nobody was even talking about the supply chain and the lack of diversity! That is when I realized we had to do something intentional if we were ever going to tap the full talent available in our workforce and subsequently apply that concept to the supply chain. The term “unconscious bias” was introduced, and we started to learn how to identify it in ‘the system’.
Our eyes were also opened up to how bias and gender stereotypes turn women away from pursuing a STEM career. Among the more frustrating of those deterrents is the very real possibility of unequal pay and limited career progression. Moreover, they report that today, just 30 percent of researchers worldwide are women, and only 35 percent of all students enrolled in STEM related fields are women.
At WEConnect International we are fortunate to have so many STEM-related companies that are committed to providing increased access to women-owned businesses so that they can compete for opportunities in their supply chain. From STEM diversity leaders such as Cisco, ExxonMobil, Ford, Google, Intel, IBM, Johnson & Johnson and Merck to those who are increasing their impact such as Logitech, Micron and Trane, all are doing their part to effect change in inclusive sourcing.
It warms my heart, therefore, that February 11th is International Day of Women and Girls in Science Day Assembly. The theme of this assembly, the sixth, is “Beyond the Borders: Equality in Science for Society”, with a special focus on the social aspects and cultural dimensions in Science, Technology and Innovation to enhance sustainable development programs. Of particular interest to me is the session Leading Courageously in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic. We have seen phenomenal leadership from our women-owned businesses to adapt, pivot and survive, while being under enormous pressure with personal responsibilities at home. Our COVID-19 survey has given us great insights so that our members could find even better ways to support their success during these trying times.
Are you ready to Rise to the Challenge? If you are male, and wondering what you can do, the answer is “plenty.” If you work in a STEM company or field and have daughters, take them to work. Show them what a career in STEM-related fields looks like. Tell them that they can be anything they want to be. STEM careers do not only have to be working for a large organization, or government; women should be empowered to start their own business, like our certified businesses Ricamil Eletricidade e Automação Ltda., Stepscan Technologies Inc. and Zigma Limited to name a few. So many women-owned businesses are ignited by a family member, a teacher or friend who believed in their abilities and encouraged them to pursue their passions despite the odds.
One of my most cherished memories of my late father was telling him in his final days how thankful I was for his unflagging support for my career choices. Would I have gotten where I did without it? Quite possibly not. And that is why it is so important that all of us in a position to help do so now, both within our own family and social circle and in the world at large.