The Intersection Between Women in Business and Women in STEM (And Why We Should Join Hands)

16/05/2016 16:10 | Updated 16 May 2016

Women in STEM and women in business have much to offer each other. The low prevalence of women in both fields indicate that something is amiss in our STEM and business environments. If we could figure out what we can do together, more women will remain in STEM and business and benefit each other.

1) Transferable skills in STEM and business

Teamwork and collaboration are very important in both STEM and business. Lab work often involves more people than the experimenter and his/her supervisor, and it helps very much when individuals help each other come up with ideas. In business, cooperation is a must, as teams need to work together to get projects done, make deals and keep clients happy.

Communication skills is also a must in both fields. Women tend to be more verbally articulate, and we become much better people when we listen and observe as well. People good at STEM tend to observe very well, but to make our observational skills relevant to the workplace, they are encouraged to join networking events for non-academics so that they know how to communicate their ideas effectively. Women in business could also help women in STEM to break into industry by holding workshops on, for example, personal grooming and people skills, both of which are less emphasised in academia.

2) Mentorship and support

Mentorship is indispensable nowadays. We learn from those who have been through it all. I didn't have the experience of being in a formal mentorship programme, so I can't speak for those who do. However, mentors have a significant advantage over books, as they know the ins and outs of their expertise, as well as mistakes they do not want juniors to repeat. They can give timely advice. (This is not to say that books take a back seat; self-education is still essential, yet learning happens best when people walk with you.)

It's great to see women in STEM networks and initiatives across various universities. Yet it is not enough just to hold lectures or academic parties for the sake of like-minded company. These societies may take a cue from mentorship programmes for women in business, in which younger women are held accountable to those in more senior positions, so that the mentors support the mentees in more tangible ways, such as gaining negotiation skills and finding connections that the mentee is interested in working with.

3) Common challenges

In fact, STEM and business are very much connected to each other. Many businesses now rely on computer and mobile technology to speed up processes, as well as data science to make decisions. Silicon Valley startups are based on technological products. Women users are as prevalent as men across social media, but the problem remains that women are still underrepresented in management levels and in STEM, which means that for the most part, Internet user experience (UX) is less catered for women than it is for men. In 2013, 41 Fortune 500 companies are technology companies. Moreover, diversity in the workplace boosts productivity and the economy. If we allow women to reach their full potential in business and STEM, imagine how many more people we could benefit.

Women face similar challenges in both STEM and business: there seems to be a "glass ceiling" above which very few women make it. Sometimes it's family matters that keep us from advancing; sometimes it's gender discrimination when it comes to papers and women get interrupted or their ideas dismissed in meetings more often. Sometimes we sabotage ourselves too: we tend to be more submissive and inclined to settle for less. There are still many hurdles to overcome if we want to see women thrive in STEM and business, but it begins with learning from each other. If we could learn from each other and support each other, we will be better able to help each other reach success.