That there is a gender gap in high tech industries and in particular the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions is well known, but the practical means of reducing the gap is more of a mystery. It matters not just because providing equal opportunity is right and fair, but because industry has so much to gain from reducing the gap and encouraging more women to design, build and drive industry with new technologies. It’s about high time we got on with the business of attracting and keeping more women in high tech.
In our review of this key topic we interviewed Dr Catherine Lambert, Director of CERFACS, the European Center for Research and Advanced Training in Scientific Computing. Catherine is also co-President of the Toulouse branch of Women in Aerospace Europe.
We asked Catherine about gender diversity, why it is so important for business in general, and in particular, in STEM related professions.
Catherine Lambert: I see gender diversity as being a way to improve competitiveness and to drive innovation in industry. Gender diversity, as other forms of diversity give us, offers us balanced teams, the different perspectives that enable companies to create new and innovative products. The technical domains have so much to gain from reducing gender diversity and embracing different styles, approaches and points of view.
eMindHub: We see companies in high tech industries like nuclear, aerospace and energy struggling to reduce the gender gap, how can they attract more women to these sectors?
CL: To attract more women, we need to start as early as possible. We need to begin by addressing girls in their middle school years, to show them they can have a great career in high tech. It is important to give them examples of women working today who have succeeded and are experiencing a rewarding career. Beyond the school years we need to see more targeted activity in our engineering and business schools, to provide opportunity for our young women to network and have relationships that provide coaching and mentoring early. Industry itself can do more by way of offering dedicated awards and grants for women, this can really highlight the great contributions women are making, a great motivator for all of us.
eMH: What are some successful strategies you have seen in your career to integrate women into male dominated teams?
CL: I have seen some companies who have decided to set objectives for recruitment, in order to improve gender diversity, which is a good practical step. I also feel it is important for men to play a role in the promotion of having more women in high tech and STEM related roles, to be the advocates for the inclusion of more women within their own team or department.
eMH: In your work with 'Women in Aerospace Europe', what do you see are the opportunities for women early in their careers to set themselves up for a successful career in their chosen domain?
CL: Women in Aerospace is active not only in Europe, but globally, and provides programs, professional development, networking opportunities and annual awards for women in the aerospace sector. There is opportunity to seek mentoring, both from supportive women and men in our industry, and there are grants offered for internships and inspiring work in research labs. The industry is vibrant and where there are avenues like Women in Aerospace, I would encourage women establishing themselves and looking to grow in their career to take advantage and seek out associations and groups like this, be it in aerospace, or other industries.
eMH: It is often said that women are known to have good people and communication skills. Do you see there being more opportunity for women to progress into management roles or is there as much opportunity to become ‘top experts’ in their chosen technical domain?
CL: I see there being just as much opportunity for women to progress into technical roles, and at highly expert levels, as well as management roles. Why not both? We need to be encouraging both career paths, both are possible and I see women doing well in senior management roles as well as in careers of deep technical application and research. There really are no limits.