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Stemming the Tide of Attrition in STEM

Prioritizing a few hard truths to bring women back into the STEM workforce.

Before the pandemic, there was already a blaring deficit of females in STEM roles. According to a 2020 Uptime Institute report, 75% of participating firms reported that in their design/build operations, women were represented in just 20% of existing roles. Another 25% of firms reported that they had absolutely no women in their organizations. Then COVID-19 hit, and 2.4 million women dropped out of the workforce in the first quarter of 2020, representing $8 billion in lost income. And according to a late 2021 survey, another 38% of women in tech plan to leave their jobs in the next two years, hinting that we have not even seen the full scope of damages yet.

There is widespread agreement that this phenomenon is a problem, but when it comes to accurately diagnosing why it’s happening or what to do about it, we hear crickets.

Few have faced the hard truths of this issue head on. It’s uncomfortable, and let’s face it, it’s a lot of work. But in order to kickstart meaningful change, it’s imperative to understand the way things have always been done in order to build a strategy around how to do them better.

Here are three hard truths we think should be prioritized in the quest to stem the tide of attrition in STEM.

Hard Truth No. 1: Pay equity for all women is projected to take more than 200 years.

Women have reason to be discouraged by their earning power. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, it will take several generations at the current rate of change to achieve gender pay equity. The Global Gender Gap Index benchmarks the evolution of gender-based gaps among four key dimensions (economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment). As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt, the timeline for achieving pay equity is even longer. WEF currently estimates the pay gap will not be closed for another 267 years.

Hard Truth No. 2: Systemic factors are causing women to reach burnout faster than male peers.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a bright spotlight was shone on the multi-faceted roles women play at work and at home. Look no further than the dropout rates of women who were pressured to choose between two options: managing a shifting work environment or maintaining a healthy family environment. And for that matter, a brighter spotlight was shone on the disproportionate list of responsibilities often assumed to be shouldered by women.

In business, most organizations rely on women to take on the lion’s share of the added responsibility of developing and shepherding wellbeing and DE&I (diversity, equity, and inclusion) programs, increasing their workload and pushing them toward burnout at a faster pace than male peers. At home, childcare/home duties most often fall on the woman’s shoulders. The term “default parent” has gained traction in recent years. Expecting women to manage the household and the kids, while working a full-time job is not sustainable; it’s a recipe for burnout.

This burnout can be prevented. Business’ need to ensure gender neutral polices exists in addition to partners shouldering a more even share of the workload. Women need partners to help shoulder responsibility more evenly, and to have more tough conversations about creating a sustainable third option where women can reach success faster than they reach burnout.

Hard Truth No. 3: There’s a misalignment between the advancement opportunities women want and the industry’s ability to deliver.

Across all levels of the recruitment funnel, women are underrepresented in the construction industry. Young people, especially young women, are taking inventory when evaluating future employers; they’re seeking representation, women leaders, and cultural diversity. The question is, are they finding it?

The need is greater now than ever before to connect early career women with female role models and mentors. Women need to be represented and connected across every level, from internships to the c-suite. It’s essential to recognize and reward talented female workers with opportunities for training and promotions that will help propel them toward leadership positions.

The Strategy for Doing it Better

There is incredible work being done by a variety of firms to better support the advancement of women and minorities. A closer look at the organizations who are excelling reveals not just a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion but a core strategy around it. There are incredible resources available in the form of organizations like Catalyst whose mission it is to equip leaders and companies to reimagine the workplace to make it a place where everyone can thrive. Enhancing DE&I and addressing gender parity isn’t committee work; it needs to be core work…at the center of how the business operates.

By Nancy Novak, Chief Innovation Officer for Compass Datacenters and
Heather Dooley, Chair of Women for
Infrastructure Masons


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