women in STEM

How do you increase the number of women in STEM? Bring in more role models (Video).

“In Europe perhaps 15% of women take STEM subjects at higher education,” says Ayumi Moore Aoki, the Founder and CEO of Women in Tech and Senator of WBAF Forum. She adds that the higher you go up the academic or business ladder, the fewer women there are in leadership positions. Ayumi discussed women in STEM and gender diversity in business in a webinar organised by Elite Business Women, in partnership with Workplace Today.  Also present in the discussion were; Bianca Tudor (Founder & CEO of Elite Business Women), and Doctor Shaimaa Bahaa El Din (Director of International Affairs & Development Partners’ Relations for the Federation of Egyptian Industries, and B20 Member of the Future of Work & Education Task Force).

How are women doing in business in Europe? Where are we and where can we do better? 

Bianca Tudor: At the moment, 29% of entrepreneurs in Europe are women and 11% of the capital venture funding is invested in promoting women entrepreneurs. Sadly, women are paid 16% less than men and while there were 30% of women in board positions in 2019, the number decreased to 23% in 2020. In institutions, women make up 46% of the European Parliament and 32% of the European Commissioners. Overall, there is an increase in the number of women which is great. However, only 2% of women ever make 1 million in revenue in their businesses, which is something we need to work on as a community.

The tech sector is famously difficult for women and when you look at the biggest companies, they are all or mostly led by men. Can you give us an overview of the tech sector around the world and how women are progressing in it?

Ayumi Moore Aoki: We have a huge gender gap in the technology industry today and though in the past few years it has improved a tiny bit, overall the gender gap has been wider and wider since the 80s and 90s.

In education, women represent 32% of students and researchers in STEM areas across the world, compared to men. Obviously, it differs from region to region. For instance, in Europe, it tends to be more like 25% and in the Middle East, in countries like the UAE, 70% of women go into STEM. However, the problem of the gender gap fluctuates depending on the area you are looking at. In the Middle East, more specifically in the UAE, it appears when women go into the workforce. Although there are lots of women that have a higher education, they do not work afterwards and there is a 50% dropout. Only 15 to 30% of women go into the workforce. Then when they go into the workforce, they stay at entry-level positions and do not go higher up the ladder, or reach the higher C-suite positions.

In Europe, perhaps 15% of women take STEM subjects at higher education. Overall, only 17% of specialists are women and 19% are entrepreneurs in the workforce. Once again, the higher you go up the ladder, the fewer women are represented. When it comes down to funding, the figures are alarming. In France, less than 3% of technology start-ups led by women receive funding. There is a huge amount of work to be done to empower women in this area.

What are the biggest problems for women in this sector? Why are things not improving?

Ayumi Moore Aoki: There are a lot of reasons why things are not moving faster, but I think it comes down to unconscious bias. People think that women are not conceived to be good at STEM because it is still perceived as a boys’ subject. As a girl, if you are clever at school, then, you should do law, while if you are a boy, you should do science. That is exactly how it went with my two eldest children. Because of the unconscious bias, women that decide to go into the tech sector feel unwelcome. There is a huge salary gap for women in STEM; they earn about 20% less than men.

What can we do to empower young women to join the tech sector?

Ayumi Moore Aoki: I think we have to start quite early, which has been proven statistically since girls usually drop their interest in tech between the age of 12 and 14.

Until they are 12, they want to be astronauts, they want to change the world and then when they reach 13, they start thinking ”Oh, I’m not good at Maths. That’s not for me!”, “I can’t make robots”, “I can’t do this and I can’t do that”. We need to have more role models and we have to show them what the possibilities are, what the jobs of tomorrow are and the things that can be done with technology. It is not just about making robots, but with AI we can make millions and millions of things. Innovation is going to be shaped by the technology we are using today. We have to tell girls and show them what the outputs can be and encourage them to dream, and dream big. For this, we need role models. We have to show them the women that are really achieving things. Dr Christyl Johnson who is the Deputy Director of NASA is one such role model. She is doing wonderful things to put women in space. Girls are not the only ones who need role models, boys do too.

It’s important to have women also mentoring boys for instance, so they can look up to women and think they can also learn from them. Female empowerment should not be one-sided; usually, men mentor women, not the other way around – we are always on the mentee side. Women have to speak up more and we need to be seen in positions of leadership.

Additionally, we need to give women more opportunities as well. I am in favour of quotas as they help to a certain point. I mean, it is just not normal to only have 3% of funds going to women-led start-ups. It is not normal, it is absurd! We need to take more action and help women in all fields, from science to entrepreneurship.

How can we convince companies that there is a huge advantage in having powerful women in their ranks? How can companies monetise that and how can we change the way investors look at that company before deciding to invest in it?

Ayumi Moore Aoki: I think it is quite easy; the first step is to look at the numbers – the figures are clear. Diverse teams perform better. The numbers and the gross products generated by teams that are diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, culture, and abilities are much higher than those generated by teams that look the same, that have no diversity whatsoever. Having more women on boards and at the top level of leadership is not only good for society and ethical, but it is also good for business. We need to become pros at bringing in qualified women and give them the same opportunities.

Bianca Tudor: We know that the European Commission had a commitment to have 40% of women in board positions roles by 2020. Now it is 2020 and they have just 23% of women in board positions in big companies. When we have a 1% increase in diversity, it brings a 3% increase in business turnover. On top of that, as a brand people are looking for companies that have diversity in their teams and that promote inclusion. This needs to be achieved without positive discrimination but rather through merit. It is not all about quotas, it is about having the right person into your team, no matter if the person is a woman or a man. The strengths and expertise men and women bring to a team complement each other.

We are living in unprecedented times, around the world, and there has been a huge focus on doing good. Companies have been encouraged to put all stakeholders and social responsibility at the core of their new business strategies. What should companies focus on in the new normal and what will the post-COVID19 era look like for women in business?

Ayumi Moore Aoki: There will be a clear change in how people will be working. I think in the pandemic men have also had the chance to see what it is like to juggle so many tasks. They have seen what it takes to take care of children, home school and work at the same time. I hope men and women will share chores more. If that happens it will definitely help women. I also hope companies and the corporate world will let women and men work remotely more often, as it will make private and work life more balanced. We will also have to think about the ways in which business could be more sustainable for everyone and that can take many shapes. We can promote environmental sustainability, but also fight for more inclusivity. We will need values at the core and centre of every business.

Shaimaa Bahaa El Din: I believe that in the upcoming period, the private sector will be thinking about diversifying its portfolio and not be as set in its ways, because now we have realized that nothing is guaranteed. The private sector needs to be more adaptable. The aviation and the tourism sector have been hit hard by the crisis but we have seen businesses in these sectors pivoting; such as tourism companies working in quarantine services.

The need for adaptation became clear when everyone had to suddenly work from home. Digitisation is not an option anymore, it is not a luxury; all organisations and businesses will have to be part of the digital world. Crisis management will have greater importance in business and leaders and managers will consider worst-case scenarios and think about how to manage a crisis. I would also say governments will be changing their strategies in the coming period – they will be thinking more about how to protect micro, small and medium enterprises through similar crises.

Bianca Tudor: I would also say that the crisis has had a positive impact because we are now talking more about unity and collaboration. I have seen countries collaborating, I have seen governments collaborating, I have seen the European Commission present and enforcing collaboration between the countries. I have seen SMEs becoming important for governments and governments creating policies to help and save SMEs. We only talk about multinational companies but SMEs are the global economic engine. COVID19 has facilitated a greater exchange of knowledge in the business sector as well as in government policies. We also need more authentic leaders and people that can take initiative. We need to stay united; we need each other, we are all in the same boat.

Watch the full webinar here: