The numbers aren’t encouraging.
Despite women making up 59% of the US labor force and almost 51% of the entire US population, according to the US Census Bureau, only 30% of workers in the tech industry are women. That figure drops to a paltry 16% when you look at the engineering workforce within the tech industry. If you’re wondering about open source, women make up only 6% of users on GitHub.
Many women are unfortunately deterred from entering the field, noting that the scarcity of women seems isolating and that subtle discrimination still exists in the sector. While the ethical imperative for gender equity is quite clear, recent research has also demonstrated that gender balanced teams tend to outperform predominantly male or predominantly female teams, offering a strong business rationale for closing the gender gap in tech as well.
So in a sector that prides itself on being full of the best and brightest problem-solvers, how do we tackle the persistent problem of the gender gap in tech?
It’s a complex issue with many roots that must be addressed through a number of thoughtfully connected solutions. STEM scholarships, one solution among many, begin to address these issues directly by providing key monetary resources, offering a sense of community among the recipients and sidestepping closed networks that limit access to mentorship and support for young women. Companies like Intel, Google, and General Assembly have begun to offer their own STEM scholarships geared towards women and other underrepresented groups in order to bring more diverse talent into the overall pipeline.
But how effective are STEM scholarships as a tool to close the gender gap in tech? The evidence suggests that they could be very effective when aligned with other complementary solutions. Here’s how:
Meeting an immediate need
STEM scholarships are most effective when it comes to offering the chance for women to participate in the tech workforce in the near term. These awards often come with financial resources, one-on-one mentorship with senior developers and a foot-in-the-door with top companies — the building blocks for successful careers in tech. Such scholarships serve dual purposes as both a great recruitment tool for companies and a way for companies to improve the skills of their future workforce. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Stronger targeted recruitment of women through offering STEM scholarships is a positive step that has the potential to lessen isolation and discrimination over time by pushing more women into the field in general, and many companies are working hard to fill their recruitment pipelines with greater numbers of women at the outset. STEM scholarships certainly incentivize women into the broader tech talent pool given the benefits that they offer, increasing the overall proportion of women in the field.