According to this Chronicle of Higher Education article, women and underrepresented minorities seem to be more discouraged about academic careers and are seeking professional development opportunities outside of academic research.
“I realized that a large part of my work would be tied to securing a very limited amount of funding and not mentoring students or thinking about research problems,” says Ms. Poston. She was also discouraged by how long it generally takes for scientific research to be put to use, she says. “I proactively sought out professional-development opportunities that would expose me to career pathways that were outside of academic research.”
Plenty of graduate students in the sciences may feel this way, but women and underrepresented minorities, who tend to find the academic environment less supportive, seem to feel it more acutely. That means it will probably take more than a robust pipeline of prospective scientists to increase the diversity of STEM disciplines.
In the US alone, there’s a 1.2 million demand for computer scientists/engineers. If more women were intrigued by the profession, they could help address the gap. But women only make 18% of CS/CE degrees. Recruiting and retention of women in male dominated careers is a problem worldwide. This Chicago Business article shares an approach to solving both the problem of recruiting and retention of women.
In my experience at the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez (UPRM), where there are almost 40% of women in engineering, it takes a multi-pronged approach to bring in and retain women in engineering and computer science. You need to start as early as possible in making science and engineering attractive and non-stereotyped. “When gender perceptions and negative stereotypes towards women in mathematics and science are non-existent, the gender gap in performance seems to disappear.” according to a 2014 UPRM study. You need role models at all levels, including society. And most importantly, incorporating project-based learning is critical. Why the latter? Women’s perceptions, problem-solving approach and contributions make them feel valued. As Richard F. Baz from WPI reports, project-based learning has significantly more impact on women than on men. It appears that when women have connections with their environment they feel valued. Project-based learning allows students, especially women, to “build more intimate connections with people… because we were living with the people we were working with…”