The number of women in STEM careers—science, technology, engineering, and math—is growing today, but it’s growing slowly. Furthermore, women who eventually earn their way to STEM roles tend to leave the field at a far higher rate than men.

How can we encourage more girls and women to pursue STEM careers? And, once they are there, how can we encourage them to stay—to develop the self-esteem and confidence necessary to go for the top jobs? Women who push ahead despite the challenges enjoy profound rewards. And when the going got rough, they say, oftentimes the deciding factor was a helping hand—a vote of confidence—an inspired mentor—at the right time and place.

By a wide margin, fewer women than men opt for STEM careers today.

While women account for more than 50% of all students in graduate school, they comprise only about a quarter of the graduates in programs on information and communication technologies or engineering. Then, once they enter the tech workforce, women make up only 12% of the engineering population and only 26% of computer science professionals.

The reasons for this gap are many, from a lack of encouragement for women to study technology starting early in their education…to a dearth of professional role models along the way…to hostile or indifferent work environments once they enter the tech workplace. One study found that, even among women who’d worked their way into STEM careers, 45% were more likely to leave the field than men. Family obligations were a small part of the reason given. At critical career inflection points, women in engineering and technology have missed the resources or guiding hand or supportive network that might have kept them on their path.

We lose out when women are missing from the dialogue in technical professions. Addressing the complex problems facing our world will require a wealth of heavy lifting in engineering and technology, as well as creativity and insight. Innovation thrives in an environment with diverse viewpoints. Yet how can we tap humanity’s full diversity and creativity if almost half the population is missing from the conversation?

The route to a better world lies through encouraging feminine leadership in engineering and technology.

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