Making STEM inclusive is a competitive business strategy

4th September 2020
Alex Lynn

For centuries, ever since the STEM disciplines were originated and evolved into learned professions, those fields have been overwhelmingly dominated by men. Worldwide, despite representing half the population, only about a quarter of STEM workers today are female. 

By Shidah Ahmad, Vice President and General Manager at Keysight Technologies

Yet as technology continues to advance, the needs of the labour market keep changing with an increasing number of jobs in electronics requiring STEM skills and knowledge. 

It is true that more women than ever are graduating from colleges and universities with STEM degrees today, but more men are also choosing STEM subjects in college. In fact, the number of men in those degree programs is rising faster than the number of women, so the gender gap in STEM not only remains, it is actually growing. And it is compounded by a disproportionately lower number of women in STEM leadership positions and a persistent wage gap separating men from women, with females in STEM jobs making 89% of what their male counterparts are paid.

But that gap doesn’t reflect a difference in aptitude. Test results from 67 different countries and regions have shown that girls do as well or better than boys in science subjects. That means women are more than capable of occupying demanding positions in STEM fields.

Gender equality in STEM fields is catching on worldwide, but it’s uneven. In the EU, for example, 41% of scientists and engineers are women. But women actually outnumber men in those professions in Lithuania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Portugal and Denmark, as well as in Norway. At the same time, though, fewer than a third of the researchers are women in Hungary, Luxembourg, Finland and, perhaps most surprisingly, Germany, which is actually led by an accomplished female scientist, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who holds a Ph.D. in chemistry.

I am proud to say that at Keysight, there have always been opportunities for women to grow and develop their careers in a meaningful way.  We have female engineers in many disciplines including firmware, hardware, materials and process engineering, and they cross many functions including manufacturing, R&D, quality assurance, procurement and marketing. 

Starting STEM interest early

Keysight has always upheld a culture of inclusion, and this goes back to our days as Hewlett-Packard. And as women in Keysight, we’ve always had a conducive and encouraging environment to grow and develop. Aligned with the company’s direction, we also have programs like Introduce a Girl to Engineering (IGED) that inculcate girls’ interest in engineering from a young age, thereby building a talent pipeline for women in engineering.

This program and its companion “Keysight After School” hands-on science workshops for children are just two of many programs Keysight has created to instill an interest in STEM. Our initiatives range all the way from elementary to the tertiary levels. We have programs on a global scale as well as more intimate, localised engagements, to encourage students to explore and discover the fields of STEM through hands-on, practical learning.

In terms of our external efforts, our approach is to expose children as widely as possible to STEM from a young age and progress onward to sustain that interest and build their abilities as they grow. Students need to be exposed to what’s happening in the world out there. It is important for children to see real technologies and real practitioners in action and have solid engagement with them. This will further inspire their imagination and develop their interest.

Diversity matters

Markets have evolved, customer demographics expanding and becoming more diverse, with broader and more sophisticated demands. Driving the innovation stream and winning in such an environment now requires different ways of looking at things, different methods and abilities to solve problems and create innovative breakthrough solutions that address the varying needs.

Studies have shown that diverse teams make better decisions 87% of the time. Even better, diverse teams also make decisions twice as fast and require half the number of meetings to get the result! So, diversity is really a competitive advantage.

In Keysight, our culture of diversity and inclusion enables us to understand and create value for our different markets better. We have global teams -- people with differing experiences, opinions and cultures – who work together and bring their unique perspectives and capabilities to the table. In terms of women, the numbers speak for themselves. Thirty-one percent of Keysight’s global workforce are women. We have 23% women in global leadership roles and 16% women in Keysight R&D roles.

In fact, in the global supply chain organisation and manufacturing operations which I lead, half of my senior staff members are women. And these are women leading high value, high complexity, sophisticated manufacturing operations worldwide.

With a pool of female talent available, it is evident that in order to encourage and help women develop in electronics and engineering, corporations need to take a larger role in the advancement of women in STEM.

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