#BreakTheBias – Women in STEM
ZOO Digital is powered by individuals.
Fierce creatives. Ingenious engineers. Stirring leaders. All working together to shape the future of media globalization. Work that would not be possible without the incredible women in Team ZOO.
Inspired by #BreakTheBias – the official theme for International Women’s Day 2022 – we’re shining a light on how the talented women across our workforce are challenging stereotypes on a daily basis.
This article continues our content series, launched on International Women’s Day 2022, that celebrates the women within Team ZOO and beyond who continuously overcome the biases that try (and fail) to hold them back, while reinforcing our ongoing dedication to gender equality.
Bias #1: ‘The STEM industries are for men.’
Research conducted by AnitaB.org in 2020 found that women represented only 28.8% of the workforce at 51 of the top U.S. tech companies.
A further study, carried out by TrustRadius in 2021, reinforces this disparity, with 72% of participants stating that they are regularly outnumbered by men in business meetings by a ratio of 2:1, while 78% feel that they must work harder than their colleagues to prove their worth in a tech environment.
Women represent only 28.8% of the workforce at 51 of the top US tech companies.
In the STEM industries as a whole, women make up a large majority of roles in health-related fields but remain vastly underrepresented in computing, engineering and the physical sciences. In fact, UNESCO’s global research into women in STEM education identified that only 3% of female students in higher education choose to study information and communication technologies. Though this percentage differs from country to country, the statistic demonstrates a clear barrier to female participation in these job clusters.
While many initiatives are being implemented across the world to tackle this imbalance, gender inequality within the STEM industries still prevails. So, how are women not only breaking biases around STEM participation but eradicating the obstacles they face?
Breaking The Bias
We are proud that women make up a large percentage of the team at ZOO Digital Labs, ZOO Digital’s research and development branch.
To explore how these women are breaking the bias, we spoke to Sara Tyler (R&D Project Manager), Melissa Rocks (QA Engineer) and Natasha Parcei (Software Engineer) about their experiences as women in STEM, and how further progress can be made towards gender equality in business:
How would you respond to the statement that ‘STEM industries are for men’?
Sara Tyler: “I would disagree. Historically, I think that was what people would tend to think, simply because they were predominantly male-dominated in years gone by. If I look back at when I first worked at ZOO some six years ago, I could count on one hand how many women there were in the R&D department. Comparing that to today, there are many more women than there used to be. There’s clearly been a shift over time, which will hopefully continue.”
Melissa Rocks: “I would say that this is a fallacy. If you keep an industry to just one gender or minority, you risk stunting progress as more experiences and backgrounds will add to ways to improve things. Also, not only men will use the products developed within STEM industries, so if you’re not taking opinions from all of your demographic groups it’s not going to be the best product it can be.”
Natasha Parcei: “This statement is simply not true. There have always been women working in STEM industries. While yes, it is currently an area with more men than women, there are women in STEM industries, and therefore this statement isn’t true.”
If you keep an industry to just one gender or minority, you risk stunting progress.
In your experience, what are the biggest challenges women face in STEM roles?
ST: “Maybe being the minority is a challenge in some circumstances? The pressures of being outnumbered by men could potentially make some women less confident in the workplace. I would say I felt like that more so when I was younger, and I know others that have to and still do to some extent. I believe for some, confidence can come in time, along with age and getting experience under your belt. If a female is younger and newer to a role, they could feel daunted settling into a male-dominated workforce. Feeling the pressure to deliver, to do a good job, to fit into the team and feel valued in their own right.”
MR: “Unconscious biases that there are specific gender-conforming roles, which means that some of these job roles aren’t even discussed within schools or universities or job centers for those who present as feminine. There are also less of our minority in these groups and so it’s harder to convince of changes needed to match our demographic with less backing.”
NP: “From my own perspective the prospect of going into a majority male industry is a bit scary, particularly things like the ‘brogramming’ culture I have come across while studying my own BSc at university, and it does create an impression that women are not welcome. This is a challenge. However, at ZOO, I have found a totally opposite environment. ”
What steps do STEM industries need to make to encourage more women into the workforce?
ST: “I like to see businesses that actively promote and shout about female employees. The use of social media and marketing are the obvious ones to mention, but not only that, it’s good to celebrate this internally too. Promoting the fact that plenty of diverse and mixed teams exist in a business will surely encourage women to be attracted to a workplace and help make them feel welcomed. Personally, I like to read success stories, to hear about how well others are doing, what career paths they may have taken, what they have had to overcome, etc. These types of things can help others aspire to achieve a certain goal in their career or even reach out to someone for advice.”
MR: “Support the opinions of others and try to put yourself in other people’s shoes. A difference of opinion doesn’t mean one of you has to be wrong or right. Go to school fairs and the like and make sure to talk to everyone equally, not just focusing on the people who may have been pushed into the courses you feel are more appropriate. Try to also have female presenters at these events as that won’t put off people who have been encouraged into these roles but women who might have not been afforded that might find this encouraging and want to open up a channel of conversation around this.”
NP: “Visibility in the workplace is really important, seeing people like yourself in STEM makes you more able to see yourself in that role. Seeing more women in tech will not only give other women role models, but also create a new image of the tech industry as one that has women in it, and this image will replace the outdated image without women in it (which is where the outdated brogramming culture is based within).”
I like to see businesses that actively promote and shout about female employees.
How can STEM workplaces become more inclusive places to work?
ST: “First impressions are very important, as is learning from your teams and continuing to talk to them. You’ll always have a perception as to what a workplace could be like, but you never really know until you’re there in and amongst it. Allowing teams to be flexible is definitely an attraction in an inclusive sense, to prospective staff. Everyone’s circumstances and lifestyles are different and it’s good when a workplace is open to that. What personal needs do people have and can they be accommodated? These types of things can help people to feel like there is an element of care in the workplace.
It may well be that someone wants to turn up, do their job, and not really want any fuss as such, but learning that about them and respecting that, is being inclusive of their preferences. Being proactive and talking to employees who want to be engaged is also a good one. Talking to them is one thing, but actually listening to what is said and looking to act upon that is another. Or at the very least, actively making the effort to look at what options could be put on the table – in whatever context that may be.”
MR: “Hire and promote diversely wherever possible. Offer training possibilities to other departments so someone who might not have been offered these options at the time of schooling has the option to train and move into these opportunities at a later point in life.”
NP: “The way to overcome this challenge is to create inclusive environments in tech. Here at ZOO, my male colleagues are the best at including my female colleagues and in the team. Therefore, at ZOO, I have never felt this challenge, but it does show that the biggest supporters to encourage women to get into and stay in tech are men who are actively inclusive and supportive. I feel very grateful to work at ZOO and to all my male colleagues here for making me feel welcome and a valid member of the team from my first day – particularly my line manager who has always given me space to be heard and amplified my voice.”
The way to overcome this challenge is to create inclusive environments in tech.
For further information and resources on women’s equality and gender parity, visit the official International Women’s Day website or click here to view the first installment of our Break The Bias series – ‘Challenging leadership stereotypes’.