3 answers

How would one combat the lack of diversity in the STEM field?

Asked Corona, California

Hi, I'm very interested in the tech field namely computer science. But there's not many women or people of color in the industry. I find this a bit discouraging but I'm determined to make this my career. #computer-science #computer-software #women-in-stem #computer-games

3 answers

Joanne’s Answer

Updated Montclair, New Jersey

Historically, there were stereotypes against going into STEM fields. (it was considered more feminine to become a teacher, nurse, .. something that gives to society.)

I was one of a handful of computer engineers in the classroom, and honestly, I didn't really care. Even today, there's an occasional sterotypic response when on a conference call with mostly men, however, be good at what you do.

Some of the top leaders at Verizon (Marni Walton, Nicki Palmer, Tami Erwin) have really important roles in the direction of the company.

Be confident in yourself and be good at what you do. In my experience, don't expect to be hired because you fit the 'minority label', because if you are hired, the expectations may be higher - so go meet or exceed them.

thanks so much joanne

Eric’s Answer

Updated Cambridge, Massachusetts


First, Joanne's answer is very good, and unlike me is coming from someone with actual experience while I am just speculating.

A lot of places, including Google, are not doing nearly as well as they should be or would like to be. One approach is for more people like you (and Joanne, it seems!) to just jump into the companies and deal with any problems that come from the companies not being diverse, because that in itself will start to change things. Another is to look for the places that are bypassing the all-too-common lack of diversity. Patagonia was recently in the news as a positive example for gender (described here, among other places: http://qz.com/806516/the-secret-to-patagonias-success-keeping-moms-and-onsite-child-care-and-paid-parental-leave/). As those companies succeed more, it will put even more pressure on less diverse companies to be better (or the more diverse companies will out-compete the less diverse ones).

I hope you do stick with computer science and that you are able to thrive in the field!

Alyssa’s Answer


I can't speak to the lack of diversity from the standpoint of a person of color as I am a caucasian female. However I can speak to the discrimination as a female currently working in STEM.

Unfortunately due to the world we live in, there is a stigma around women in tech. I have found comfort in knowing that I am not the only woman trying to fight this battle of proving herself in tech. I recommend finding allies. There are many meetups, conferences, online communities reaching out and created to help women in tech.

A little about me, I grew up with an older brother as my only sibling. I tend to have more guy friends so being surrounded by guys is normal for me. In college I took engineering classes and I didn't notice the minority of women as much because the ratio still felt normal-ish (35-40% women).

It wasn't until I entered the tech industry that I noticed a larger gender gap (15-25% women) depending on the company. About 80% of my day is spent where I am the only female in the room or in sight. This certainly depends on where you work and the circumstances.

There are times as a female in tech I feel undermined and underestimated. I have left a company because I was not taken seriously as a female. There are companies where this is ingrained in their culture. Tech industry definitely leans towards a culture of "a boy's club". My advice for those places and in general as a female in tech is to pick your battles. If you wave your feminist banner around 24/7 you won't make any friends.

I also found part of what I said above to be true in manufacturing industry as well. My first internship/real job was in the manufacturing industry (which I later realized wasn't for me, for different reasons). I had a wonderful female manager who looked after my success and understood. At that company the culture was very welcoming and family like. A year later I applied for a different job in manufacturing with another company and learned; I didn't get the job because I was not enough of a "tomboy" and wasn't "butch" enough. Across different companies within the same industry I had very different experiences, which is also true for the tech industry.

From my experience in tech I find myself having to combat and prove myself to others. I have to interject and make myself known as an intelligent individual in the room. Although necessary, this is often uncomfortable for me and feels rude. My mother also works in tech and this is something we discuss regularly. But for every man that acted discriminatory towards women or has made me feel inferior I have found a way to removed myself from the situation. I am lucky to have male managers in my career that are respectful, understanding, willing to listen to my struggles as a female and took steps towards correcting the situation. I know that is not always the case and I am lucky for it.

I apologize this response might be negative and might not be the answer you are looking for, but the intent is honesty. I wish I had known more about the workforce before I had started this path, although I don't think it would have differed me and I hope this knowledge doesn't differ you. The lack of women in STEM is staggering. The best way I know to counteract this is perseverance, to keep my head up and stick with it. I hope you strongly consider doing the same. The stigma won't change if intelligent women don't choose to pursue the careers they rightfully deserve.

Alyssa recommends the following next steps:

  • Find allies
  • Persevere through adversities
  • Keep your head up
  • Recognize when to remove yourself from situations, if that means leaving the company.
  • Help others