By: Meredith Struby

As seen in Intellectual Property Magazine

Most organisation for economic cooperation and development (OECD) countries, including the US and UK, have a shortage of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics(STEM) workers and have an urgent need to recruit more students into STEM. Despite having similar test scores in maths and science as their male classmates, women continue to be underrepresented in STEM jobs, especially in the fields of engineering, architecture and computer science.

We can inspire women to study and pursue careers in STEM by helping them make connections between their passions, their skills, and careers in STEM. We can retain and maximise the potential of female talent by creating inclusive cultures in universities and organisations that value female students and employees.

Inspiring Women

Schools and outreach programmes can create fun and/or thought-provoking experiences and opportunities that can spark young women’s interests and passions in STEM-related fields. Teachers, school counsellors, and volunteers from STEM-related fields can help students draw the connection between their interests and passions and how STEM studies and careers can use their skills to serve those interests and passions. As a community, we can help our girls see their value, their abilities, and the potential for them to make an impact.

Imagine if everyone reading this article asked their local schools and universities about their efforts to engage young women in STEM and then took an action to support these engagement efforts. It would go a long way!

Below are some questions you can ask your local schools and universities:
• Do they host STEM-focused career panels with women panelists?
• Do they have anti-bias training for teachers, guidance counsellors, and career counsellors?
• Do they study significant contributions to STEM by women regularly (and not just during women’s history month) to help women see themselves in STEM? Diverse inventors and innovators have been part of the innovation ecosystem all along, but they are not typically as well represented in our textbooks.
• Do they host science fairs that encourage participation by women?
• Are young women able to participate in experiential learning, such as taking field trips to science museums, botanical gardens, aquariums, zoos, and natural history museums?
• Do they have opportunities to participate in creative problem-solving competitions, like Odyssey of the Mind or LEGO Robotics teams? Is their participation affirmatively encouraged?
• Do the schools have shadowing programmes for women to shadow someone in a STEM field? Are the schools short staffed or lack resources to provide these programmes but would be interested otherwise?

If you have ideas about how to connect the schools with the resources they need, offer to help. The answers to these questions could spark conversations on solutions about how to bridge the connection between young women and STEM and how to inspire them to pursue STEM studies and careers. Below are some ideas of how you can take action to support your local schools and organisations:

  • Volunteer with local, regional, or international organisations that work with local schools to engage interest in STEM. Last month, the author’s local chiefs of intellectual property (ChIPs) chapter, an organisation aimed at promoting women, put together a panel of women in STEM careers to talk about their jobs and paths to inspire a group of around 40 middle and high school aged young women. And, as a bonus, a few mentorship relationships were formed between the panelists and the attendees.
  • Talk to students on school-sponsored career days.
  • Let a young woman shadow you in your job for a day (or a week) if your organisation allows.
  • Help with science fairs.
  • Host an innovation pitch event.
  • Host an industry specific informational event to expose young women to the industry, such as Southern Automotive Women’s Forum’s (SAWF) All Girls Auto Know event to learn about the automotive industry.
  • Invite young women in your community to business association events that feature STEM-based businesses.


The inability to be in person due to the Covid-19 pandemic prevents some of the more traditional, meaningful experiences, such as shadowing, in-person internships, industry-specific events, experiential learning trips, and in-person lab experiences. Until we can gather in person safely, we can use video conferencing to have conversations with more young women and bring people together from remote places to share their stories and help young women see how STEM studies and career can help them make the impact they desire. Creating videos providing information about STEM studies and careers and using social media to promote these videos, may also be an inroad for inspiring young women in STEM.

In addition, we need consider the messaging young women hear about their participation in STEM fields. If our young women hear that they can be successful in these fields, they may be more likely to see these fields as possibilities and choose these paths. Conversely, if they hear that they are not likely to be successful, many may be less inclined to try. We need to communicate our belief in the capabilities of young women in STEM, and we need to expose young women to female role models in STEM so they can see themselves in these fields. Any student, regardless of their gender identity, that is passionate about a STEM field should have the opportunity to pursue studies and job opportunities in that field. We reduce the potential of our societies and stifle innovation by making assumptions about interest/affinity or ability based on gender identity.

Early Career Support

Supporting women early and as they grow in their STEM careers can set the stage for them to develop their skills more quickly, engage more deeply in their careers, and not leave their careers prematurely because they feel overwhelmed and undervalued. As we have heard many times before, diverse teams in organisations with inclusive cultures are more productive and creative, more resilient, have higher profitability margins, and tend to have a better understanding about the societal implications of their work. However, diversity alone will not yield these results. To extract the value of these teams, underrepresented team members need to feel that their ideas and approaches are valued and that they belong on the team.

Affirm that women are valued and that you believe they can do the tasks expected of them. Be intentional about giving them interesting, challenging, and diverse assignments to develop their skill sets. Take the time to train them and be curious about their learning styles and motivational language, rather than teaching them based on your own personal styles and motivational language. Communicate their value to innovation and discuss the impact of this innovation.

Serve as and recruit mentors that are eager to help women navigate how to achieve their career goals. And, serve as and recruit sponsors that are eager to advocate for the woman’s contributions and efforts. If there are no mentors or sponsors at the organisation, encourage women to seek mentorship and sponsorship from women or men outside of the organisation.

Give women clear, fair, and timely feedback to help them move toward their career goals, even if it is uncomfortable for you. If you have doubt about whether your feedback is fair, ask what her understanding is and the intention behind her approach. This approach shows respect for her thoughts and feedback. And, if women feel like they are not getting clear, fair, and timely feedback, encourage them to ask for it.

Establish flexible work policies when possible that recognise outside demands on employees that disproportionately impact women. Examples of flexible work policies include the ability to work remotely and establish part-time work arrangements. Express that employees that utilise these options are valuable. Holding meetings over video conference when possible encourages more participation from those employees that may be attending remotely.

Promotion of Women

Not only do women contribute significantly to innovation in STEM areas, but women can also make excellent leaders in STEM-based organisations. Women leaders tend to be direct, curious, engaging, thoughtful, organised, comfortable with sharing their stories and vulnerabilities, collaborative, and compassionate. These traits lead to increased employee satisfaction and to employees feeling more valuable and understood. Organisations that recognise the value of retaining women and promoting them into leadership roles can consider the following tips for creating inclusive work cultures:

  • If you believe women at your organisation have the talents that they need to do their jobs and serve in leadership roles, tell them so. Share with them what you see.
  • When you invite women to the leadership table, listen to them, uninterrupted. Amplify their ideas if you agree with them.
  • If you believe women at your organisation have the talents that they need to do their jobs and serve in leadership roles, tell them so. Share with them what you see.
  • When you invite women to the leadership table, listen to them, uninterrupted. Amplify their ideas if you agree with them.
  • Women, like men, are not monolithic. They have diverse ideas among them. When listening to someone’s perspective, keep this in mind and do not necessarily attribute their ideas to the whole.
  • If you hear or see something, say something. Do not allow sexist jokes, microaggressions, or unfair assumptions or criticisms based on stereotypes to go unchecked.
  • When describing a characteristic of a woman, ensure that any adjectives you choose are adjectives you would use to describe the same characteristic in a man. Words like “hysterical”, “bossy”, “bitchy”, “dramatic,” and “emotional” tend to be used only for women and have a negative connotation.
  • Affirmatively open the door to receiving feedback and being held accountable about how women feel about their treatment within the organisation. Offer listening sessions with members of the diversity, equity and inclusion team and anonymous surveys, and pay attention to non-verbal cues and body language of women, such as whether and when women withdraw during meetings.
  • Beware that your female leaders may feel ‘only-ness’ occasionally if there are not many female leaders in your organisation. Acknowledging this, including them, and supporting their participation in outside organisations that have other female leaders can goa long way to making female leaders feel valued and supported.


For women in STEM who are curious about how to rise through their organisations into leadership positions or senior roles, below are a few tips to consider.

  • Know your strengths and share them with your team. Ask to serve in roles that utilise those strengths and build on your potential.
  • Find a group of professional women, inside or outside of your organisation, with whom you can share experiences, seek advice, share fears and stories, and nurture and expand your networks. These deep relationships will replenish your energy and help you grow into your full potential.
  • Trust your intuition. Going against the status quo is what leads to advances in innovation.
  • Be the go-to person for what is happening in your industry. Subscribe to industry related news feeds and share what you learn with those in your organisation that need that information.
  • Use your collaboration skills to find common ground and understanding in discussions.
  • Beware of the pull of perfectionism. Consider how this yardstick is serving you.


By helping women make the connections among their passions, their skills, and careers in STEM and by helping women see the impact they can have in their field of interest through STEM studies and careers, we can inspire more women to enter STEM fields. And, by creating inclusive cultures that value women and allow them to feel safe contributing their ideas and being their full selves, we can retain and maximise the potential of our female talent.