Women identifying as Latina, Black or Asian represented 35.3 percent of the total female population of the U.S. in 2015 — and that number is projected to rise to 50.6 percent by 2060. Despite this fact, women of color hold just 11 percent of all science and engineering jobs. The problem is even more pronounced at upper levels of management, where nonwhite women hold just 5 percent of senior and executive management positions and 4 percent of board seats. Equity for gender and race in STEM leadership will come from a balance of education, mentoring and —according to Monica Eaton-Cardone, a global FinTech executive — “it will not happen until technology is democratized and the economic playing field has leveled—enabling everyone to have an equal chance to succeed.”
China has near-parity between men and women in tech professions. In a survey by Silicon Valley Bank, it was learned that in China, nearly 80 percent of tech companies have women in C‑level jobs. In the U.S., it’s 54 percent. Eaton-Cardone points to the fact that technology is taught alongside other standard academic subjects in school, just like language or mathematics. Globally, the gender gap among children of primary school age dropped from more than 5 percent to 2 percent in 2016, according to a February 2018, UNESCO report. “We need to start early and foster a greater interest in science and technology education among young girls and people of color. Many of them will end up discovering an interest in the subject they didn’t realize they had,” noted Eaton-Cardone.
Eaton-Cardone recognizes that the world needs role models—women who have taken chances, faced educational and hiring challenges, pushed through on their own merits, seen opportunities to disrupt a field, and beat the odds—women who have looked past gender and color.
Diana Trujillo, an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is an example in fortitude. She is one of the first Hispanic women to break into the aerospace industry. Growing up in Colombia during the 1980s, she dreamt of escaping the civil unrest. She immigrated to the U.S. with $300 in her pocket and eventually received a degree in aerospace mechanics and biomechanics.
Joycelyn Elders, the daughter of sharecroppers in Arkansas, went on to graduate as her high school’s valedictorian and the first person in her family to attend college. Rising through medical practice and public health administration, in 1993 she became the 15th surgeon general of the U.S. — the second woman and first African-American to hold that position.
To whom did these women look for inspiration? Marie Curie, Polish physicist and chemist, who pioneered research on radioactivity after pressing forward and sacrificing much to gain an education, gave courage to generations of women. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S., and went on to create an internship program to help female medical students expand their skills—raising the bar for female professionals.
As a businesswoman in finance and technology, Eaton-Cardone challenges women to bring positive change to tech innovations and reach equity on the merits of their production. She offers strategies for women who are in STEM or are aspiring to STEM careers:
- Mentorship: In a field as competitive as science and technology, it’s important to have an advocate who can show you the ropes and open doors for you. Melinda Gates is able to leverage her influence to forward women in finance. Her Pivotal Ventures is an investment and incubation company which funds female and minority-led venture capital endeavors.
For 15 years, L’Oreal USA has recognized postdoctoral female scientists with its Women in Science Fellowship, awarding grants to advance its research. The initiative encourages women to fend off resistance and prevents burn-out, an especially challenging scenario for minorities.
She adds that women shouldn’t simply seek a mentor for themselves; but, rather, should pay it forward and become a mentor to others. This can ease the transition from education into a career, and can even be accomplished online. CEO Sarah Haggard’s Tribute is an example of an online community pairing mentors and mentees, powered by an app.
- Track your merits: Measure your worth and keep track of your production record and statistics. Never depend on others to do it. STEM is all about objective outcomes and values. It’s hard to deny statistics; your value will be right there, in black and white.
Eaton-Cardone recommends documenting all training, certifications, accolades, industry articles, research grants, fellowships and committee appointments. When sitting down with those in authority to determine your path, your merits translate into value for the organization.
- Leverage and promote your wins: Let your story and voice be heard and remembered. Start in your local community, and engage employees, as well. Consider establishing programs to tutor students from area schools, or offer internships to provide hands-on experience. Host a STEM career day and spotlight different tech roles which will be hiring when students graduate, and demonstrate the skills they’ll need to land those jobs.
From that point, you can position yourself for speaking engagements to business groups, penning articles, and posting blogs to education and business organizations. Set an example and enable younger women to reach higher—from your pedestal.
STEM education is the best way to help ensure that women of diverse backgrounds and cultures have the experience and flexibility to be contributing to society a few decades from now. The women who will discover the cure for cancer or lead a mission to Mars are today’s girls in need of inspiration and role models.