Why we need more women and girls in STEM

Georgette Tan

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.

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A Google search on ‘famous scientists’ brings up names including Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking in the first 20 results, all of whom are male.

To the browser’s credit, Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin are mentioned. Yet, despite their exceptional contributions, the presence of these women seems like drops in a sea of briny masculinity. While such an occurrence may seem inconsequential, the lack of diversity in such prominent lists reflects a larger inclusivity issue plaguing the wider science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industry:

There are simply too few women in the world of STEM.

The recent Girls in Tech study by Mastercard reported three key reasons why young women feel discouraged from pursuing STEM fields of study or careers: the omnipresence of male counterparts, lack of interest, and societal support to join them.

Although these alarming perceptions exist, they can be changed. The research found that a majority of young women in the region felt that STEM jobs were suitable for them. In fact, 53 percent of non-STEM jobbers were able to find value in STEM-skills in their careers.

It is crucial that more is done to spark girls’ interest in STEM, and inspire them to pursue their passions. Asia Pacific’s prevalence of ambitious and intelligent women is an opportunity, not a challenge.

STEM careers afford women the opportunity to be financially self-sufficient, determine their own career paths, and positively impact the world through their leadership and creativity.

Conversely, the STEM industry’s lack of diversity is bad for business. Uniformity breeds monotony, which in turn stymies creativity and innovation. Engaging different views and capabilities can enhance the insight and inventiveness of products and solutions.

Take the challenge of financial exclusion as an example. Economic exclusion affects women disproportionately in the Asia Pacific region, and prevents them from achieving their full potential. While technical knowledge is crucial, so is a keen understanding of female-specific socio-cultural factors that perpetuate these circumstances. Gender insight is crucial to designing requisite technologies, and plays an important role in successful, impartial research and product development.

Keen champions of women in STEM, Mastercard launched the Girls4Tech programme to inspire school-aged girls and spur them on into rewarding careers in STEM. To date, the programme has been rolled out across the globe in markets such as Singapore, China, India, Australia, United States, United Kingdom, Argentina, UAE and Germany, impacting more than 13,000 girls. 

While Asia Pacific has made large strides on the road to gender parity, it still has a long way to go, especially in the world of STEM. To succeed, however, such a movement must happen as part of a national, corporate and cultural imperative. Maybe then will we see more equal representation, and more women acknowledged for their achievements and contributions to science and our wider humanity.

The author is Senior Vice President, Communications, Asia Pacific, Mastercard

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