As advances in technology and science continue to evolve and become ever more complex, with impacts that stretch far beyond the industry itself, it’s vitally important to ensure that women are given an equal voice and role in the field. While much has been written and discussed concerning the disparity between men and women in science, technology, engineering, and math careers, the focus on mentorship as a critical component in helping women in STEM succeed has been limited.
In May, Aaron S. Wallen, Ph.D., Human Capital Management Senior Lecturer, joined a panel for Columbia Global Centers Nairobi to discuss how mentorship is one of the key ways to help women in STEM. Dr. Wallen explains, “the distribution into different domains, different fields of work, different careers, different jobs has been segregated by gender or at least predominated by particular genders historically...one way to address the problem is to increase both, early on, an interest in these domains and also, later on, the visibility and representation of women and girls in these areas.”
Gender stereotypes, cultural norms and expectations, and many other factors have long contributed to the STEM world’s so-called “leaky pipeline” in which women have not had the same level of retention as men. But mentorship can be the first step in helping fight back against many of those limiting factors. Edna Karijo, a Public Policy Specialist and Program Manager at eMobilis and trustee at Internet Society of Kenya, believes that “mentorship goes hand in hand with leadership.” It’s a relationship that can instill in women a confidence that allows them to reach their goals, overcome imposter syndrome and challenge social perceptions in a safe space. “It’s really important for women in STEM to learn the art of self-promotion,” she explains.
In addition, mentorship allows more women in STEM to reach out and connect with each other. Lavina Ramkissoon, Chairperson/Founder, Technology Foundation & r.ai (responsible AI), and Women in STEM Global Mentor, believes that a synergistic approach and an atmosphere of teamwork and togetherness is the best way to make advances in every field, noting “we all have our own narratives and we all have our own stories to be told, but imagine a world where we all sing them and tell them together. You know, maybe we’d create some harmony.”
And that isn’t just limited to the women in individual industries or circles. The panelists agreed that thinking globally is ideal. Anouchka Albano, Head of Digital Communication, Chaire UNESCO Emerging Technologies for Development, University of Bordeaux-Montaigne, France, explains, “if we want to create more impact as women in the world, we should work as women,” not bounded by the languages they speak or the country they live in.
Most importantly, the panelists agreed that mentorship was valuable in giving women in STEM more visibility, something critical not only for women already in the field, but for young girls just beginning to think about what they’re interested in or what they want to accomplish in the future. As Dr. Wallen notes, “It’s important that you see people who look like you doing a variety of things, so that you implicitly understand early in life that the universe is open and possible. And that there is no such thing as a girl’s job or a boy’s job, a woman’s job or man’s job. That’s a made up construct we’ve imposed on things.”
Learn more about Columbia University’s M.S. in Human Capital Management program. Its leading-edge curriculum and world-class resources prepare students to make immediate impact. By engaging with and exploring questions of visibility, diversity, and retention in the workplace, students will not only be better able to optimize business outcomes, but will have the chance to shift the status quo for a more inclusive, more effective future.