An organization’s ability to attract, hire, and retain talent is crucial to its long term growth and success. Despite a general technology talent shortage (which is even more pronounced in the data science field), women hold only 26% of all STEM jobs.

So, what’s causing the gender gap?

How can organizations attract more women into their talent pipelines?

How can organizations convert these women into key roles across different departments?

Job seekers are more attracted to organizations that demonstrate clear opportunities to (a) advance their careers, and (b) learn from senior leadership. Hiring new employees will be difficult if these two factors are not visible from the outside looking in. Retaining employees is a separate, but equally serious challenge for firms that don’t prioritize equality of opportunity.

Broken Rungs on the Corporate Ladder

In order to understand the skewed representation in the talent pipeline, we must first look at corporate upward mobility.

When women enter STEM fields, there are many structural barriers that discourage or stop them altogether from rising to manager, director, and executive levels. For example, it is a commonly held belief that women are paid less and promoted less often when compared to men because they do not ask. However, women ask for promotions and raises at the same rates as men. And yet, for every 100 men who receive a promotion only 79 women get promoted. Women are also less likely to receive promotions and raises early in their careers, which they can interpret as being undervalued at work. This gender imbalance of promotions ultimately leads to fewer women in senior roles.

At the entry level, the numbers are comparable. Men make up 52% of entry level hires, with women accounting for 48%. The gender gap grows as we move up the org chart. Just one level up, for every 100 people in management roles, only 38 are women. In order for organizations to address the gender gaps in their talent pipeline, they must start internally. Companies must focus on promoting more women as there isn’t data to support that they aren’t deserving of, or asking for, promotions.

As gender and diversity splits at companies becomes more visible, women and minorities will be more attracted to firms that score well in these categories. The business case for a more diverse workforce is also clear as gender diverse companies are more likely to have a better company culture and more positive financial outcomes (Harvard Business Review, 2013).

Mentorship in the Corporate Tool Box

Once an organization has achieved more gender balance across departments, as well as up the org chart, firms should also ensure women have access to mentors. Professional mentorship is incredibly important to the elevation and progression of women in the workplace. It also helps in developing (and retaining) the next generation of business leaders.

Women are less likely to have substantial, meaningful, and casual conversations with senior leaders in their companies (McKinsey & Co, 2018). Men are much more likely to experience these casual conversations with senior leaders, creating the right recipe for mentorship to evolve organically.

Overall, people are more likely to mentor those who share similar experiences (Catalyst, 2012). Put simply, men are more likely to mentor men and women are more likely to mentor women.

As a result, women are at a disadvantage because there are simply less women one or two levels above them. Firms can tackle this problem in two ways.

First, firms can develop programs that connect women mentors to women mentees, while communicating all of the benefits from these types of relationships. One of the structural challenges that women face is a feeling of isolation, or being ‘the only’ -- as in the only representative of their gender. (NCWIT Scorecard, 2019) Mentorship rooted in shared experience reduces ‘the only’ feeling and provides junior employees with a relationship focused on navigating all aspects of the workplace. Eliminating ‘the only’ feeling would reduce turnover as women who feel less isolated are more likely to stay with their organizations.

Second, firms can encourage mentor relationships where both parties share as many differences as they do similarities. With upper levels of management being mostly male dominated, women being able to mentor women may not always be an option. Organizations should also consider mentorship programs where men mentor women. When men mentor women, men can use their status and seniority to elevate women (Harvard Business Review, 2018). Mentorship across gender lines begins to eliminate ‘the boys club’ experience -- women feeling excluded from social circles due to gender. By promoting mentorship between genders, women will be less likely to feel excluded from the ‘the boys club’ and more likely to socialize.

Both of these solutions would help organizations retain and promote women within the company. With lower employee turnover, organizations can save on recruiting costs while cultivating a more positive internal culture.

Conclusion:

At Correlation One, we learned of this troubling ‘Lack of Women in STEM’ trend through conversations with various business leaders across many different industries. They expressed concern that their candidate pools were too homogeneous. To diversify their applicant pools, organizations should focus on promoting and mentoring women internally. Then, when clear career paths can be visualized, organizations will attract more diverse candidates who can envision themselves succeeding within the organization.

We recognize that, at Correlation One, we also need to make an effort to diversify the candidate profiles we share with our clients. We’re committed to researching this issue further in 2019 and plan on launching our own initiative later this year. As an organization at the forefront of understanding data talent, we plan to use our expertise to minimize the representation gap and work towards a more diverse data science and technology workforce.