International Women’s Day (IWD) is recognized annually on March 8 to celebrate the achievements of women and build awareness around the inequities that still exist. IWD’s 2023 theme of #EmbraceEquality is particularly fitting in the technology sector as the industry strives to attract women amidst a persistent skills shortage. While this effort can offer more work opportunities and improved job security, recruiting women into these professions remains a challenge.
Despite making significant strides since IWD was first observed in 1909, women continue to be underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. While women account for nearly half of the U.S. workforce, only a third work in STEM, and earn on average 18% less than their male counterparts. These numbers are even more pronounced within specific STEM fields. For example, women represent just 5% of software developers, 16% of engineers and 27% of data center technicians.
These discrepancies are likely not indicative of women being excluded from STEM professions. Instead, what we see is a lack of female applicants. This begs the question: How do STEM fields attract and retain more women?
Building interest in male-dominated STEM fields requires a dynamic, long-term strategy focused on eliminating biases, nurturing interest and providing opportunities.
Stoking interest in STEM skills must begin at an early age to minimize gender stereotypes that perpetuate the “math is for boys” myth. Exposing girls to STEM-based activities and engaging their curiosities are keys to breaking down barriers that can dissuade them from pursuing interests in these areas. Simple conversations – at school and in the home and community – that validate and encourage girls’ interest in these fields can also help eliminate prejudices and embolden girls to explore STEM-related hobbies.
Various programs and activities, such as Girls Who Code and EngineerGirl, introduce girls to fields and provide resources that can inspire choosing a STEM career. To inform the next generation of young minds about the data center industry, CoreSite is participating in events like the Data Center Coalition’s Discovery Zone on March 25 to celebrate International Data Center Day. This event invites community members of all ages to learn about data centers and career paths available in the industry. Through our involvement, we hope to build awareness around the employment potential within the market, especially with community members that may not even know what a data center is.
Ultimately, supporting interests from a young age will empower girls to look beyond gender stereotypes and pursue their passions.
Women are narrowing the STEM gender gap in post-secondary education. In 2022, women represented 44% of STEM-related bachelor’s degrees. However, similar to the workforce disparity, these numbers vary across STEM majors; women account for only 14% of engineering students and 18% of computer and information sciences students.
Many colleges and universities are offering women large merit scholarships to encourage them to enroll in STEM programs. This is a powerful strategy to spark interest at the higher education level. Mentorships in high school and college can also further strengthen access to STEM tracks by connecting students with women who can offer guidance, support and first-hand knowledge in these disciplines.
Over time, the culmination of these efforts will encourage and drive more girls into these fields. In fact, some programs are already reporting progress. In 2022, the Research Science Institute’s (RSI) summer STEM program for high school students enrolled more females than males for first time.
Fostering women’s interests in STEM fields is only part of the challenge. Women in STEM professions need continued support through effective recruiting, retention and development strategies to promote gender equality within the workforce. Tenure is a major driver for career advancement, salary growth and more. However, women are more likely to leave the workforce for extended periods of time – whether for maternity leave, family care or other responsibilities. COVID-19 did not help this issue. According to a MetLife survey, COVID-19 exacerbated gender gaps within STEM workforces because more women took medical or family leave, were furloughed or reduced their hours to manage family responsibilities. The New York Times also reported on this trend, noting that 75% of those that left their jobs during the pandemic were women.
While any employment interruption can impact career trajectory, this can be even more jarring in the technology sector given the speed at which technology evolves. Time away from the workforce can make it more difficult to keep pace with next-generation concepts and innovations that were introduced during a work absence. Businesses that promote flexibility within the work environment and offer corporate benefits that support women’s unique needs can help empower women as they balance multiple roles and expectations. In fact, employers can shape the way family obligations impact their workforce by not only supporting women, but also by making parental leave and adoption benefits available to all men.
Continued mentorship in the workforce is also important to provide women with the support and direction they need to learn and thrive. Building partnerships in which women invest in one another – especially in male-dominated technology fields – can help women navigate career challenges, expand their knowledge and position themselves for success. Programs like the CoreSite Resource Exchange for Women are designed to do this by offering opportunities for women to learn from and support one another as they pursue goals.
At CoreSite, we are also investing in our talented teams through new learning and development programs and initiatives and through our Data Center Qualification program, which allows interested entry-level technical team members to learn and grow in their careers at CoreSite.
Despite lower representation, women are thriving in STEM careers. At CoreSite, women are embracing opportunities to take on new and challenging projects and roles to advance their careers. Creating opportunities and nurturing interest from an early age and continuing to cultivate these interests throughout women’s educational and career journeys will be critical to build a pipeline of women interested in these disciplines. This will continue to minimize – and eventually eliminate – the gender gap in STEM. The technology skills shortage offers another opportunity to ramp up these efforts by offering more employment options in higher-salaried professions, a pairing that could simultaneously bridge gender and pay gaps.
As we celebrate IWD 2023, let’s #EmbraceEquality and encourage women to pursue their passions across all careers.
Amy Garner is the Senior Director of Human Resources at CoreSite, where she has worked to promote and advance STEM career opportunities for nearly a decade. She believes that the data center industry offers a unique environment for women to learn and develop a variety of skills that may not otherwise be accessible or even presented as career options. Amy’s 18-year human resources career has been dedicated to marrying the concepts of strategic business development through the creation and nurturing of employees’ career aspirations. Amy holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Louisiana State University and a Master of Management from the University of Denver. To learn more about career opportunities at CoreSite, Amy invites you to visit www.coresite.com/careers.
Amy Garner is the Senior Director of Human Resources at CoreSite, where she has worked to promote and advance STEM career opportunities for nearly a decade.Read more from this author