Bridging the Gap for Top-Ranked Female Stem Students Requires Disruptive Strategies

Busting the myth that girls don't do science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), the release of the first ever national rankings of top science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students by STEM-Premier reveals 23 of the top 50 students are female.
The students, representing all 50 states with STEM Premier profiles, were ranked and rated based on an algorithm of over 30 profile metrics including achievements, experiences and more.

The talent is there. However, those girls will still be required to fight the odds. Reports show the share of STEM bachelor's degrees awarded to women has been ticking down over the past decade. Inequalities and bias in STEM-related fields continue; and statistics show nearly one in five women in STEM leave the workforce.

And yet, the demand/supply gap between projected need for talent with necessary STEM knowledge, skill, and abilities continues to grow. The top concern cited by CEO's and business leaders across the country continues to be finding talent with the critical thinking and problem solving skills necessary to operate in the 21st century global business environment. These crucial skills are highly-identified in candidates with an educational background focused in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Students demonstrating interest in STEM education bring with them new ideas, perspectives and a passion for innovation; but barriers remain for these students to connect with in-demand careers in high-growth industry sectors.

How do we bridge the gap?

1) Mentorship -- Navigating the waters through higher levels of education and into the workforce can be daunting. Creating formal structures allowing currently successful women in STEM to devote time, energy and knowledge to upcoming students benefits not only the student, but the mentor and business as well as they garner insights and ignite innovation.

2) Highlight women who do well in both traditional and non-traditional STEM fields -- In STEM fields, women earn 33 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs. Women experience a 14 percent wage gap in STEM, as opposed to a 21 percent wage gap outside of STEM.

But the opportunity for those with a STEM education doesn't end there. High demand for STEM knowledge, skills and abilities also allows STEM talent to divert from STEM jobs because while directly-related STEM jobs are high-paying, these highly marketable skills allow women to transition to different and often more lucrative career pathways, including management and entrepreneurial endeavors.

A prime example of the skills and capacities fueled by a STEM education being strongly utilized in other arenas is Indiana's current Lt. Governor, Sue Ellspermann. Ellspermann holds a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering from Purdue University, and master's and doctoral degrees in industrial engineering from the University of Louisville.  Her skill set has served her well in a variety of arenas as she previously served at General Motors, Michelin and Frito-Lay, started a consulting business, and later became the founding director of the Center for Applied Research and Economic Development at the University of Southern Indiana before becoming Lt. Governor.

3) Create pathways that bridge the gaps between education to career -- Students who possess the necessary STEM knowledge, talent, and skills to excel at the college and university levels, and throughout their careers, continue to face challenges in being discovered by universities and corporations seeking talent, especially in underserved and underrepresented areas. Programs such as STEM Premier, a cradle-to-career solution that assists students in designing a career pathway, educators in recruiting top talent to their schools, and employers in connecting with the talent they need, serves to level the playing field.

Tasked with creating uncommon strategies to attract and develop top-tier, phenomenal talent, Terri Hollinden, Vice President of Talent at STIMULUS Engineering sought out unique solutions tied to STEM. Hollinden stated, "As the global economy shifted, we recognized a need to develop long-term strategies to talent acquisition that are just as innovative. Utilizing an online platform such as STEM-Premier gives us the advantage of creating a stable, continuous talent pipeline by developing relationships with existing and future talent with the skills needed to create a high-velocity organization designed to compete in today's global business environment."

4) Employ diversity and inclusion strategies in talent acquisition and retention - Intensifying emphasis on these strategies ensures that those with the competencies vital to future business success are not overlooked.

PriceWaterhouse Cooper's 18th Annual Global CEO Survey released at the World Economic Forum in Davos revealed that executives are increasing their focus on diversity and inclusion strategies as a crucial component to amassing the right mix of talent that can be altered based on business needs.

"Remaining competitive in today's business environment requires utilizing unique and disruptive external sourcing strategies that include connecting with underserved and underrepresented segments of the population in the development of the talent pipeline," said Steve Ferguson, Chairman of the Board of Cook Group Inc.

Supporting women STEM students is an essential part of out-innovating the rest of the world. In business and as a society, these are just a few of the ways the road can be made smoother and more appealing for young girls already demonstrating their top-level STEM talents.