A tech career, perhaps more than any other field, should not be about who you are or where you’re from. Technology doesn’t care about your gender, it’s not bothered about your age, ethnicity or social status and yet we have a global diversity imbalance.
A study commissioned by PwC (Pricewaterhouse Coopers) in 2017 found that around 30% of students studying STEM topics (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are female. That figure falls to 15% who make it into employment and just 5% rise to take a leadership position.
Friday 11 February was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Established by UNESCO, this day aims to celebrate the critical role that women and girls play in science and technology.
To contribute to the discussion and help highlight some of the issues involved, we met up with one of Hexagon’s engineering stars of the future and graduate of our Women’s Mentoring Programme, Shreya Chandrashekhar. She’s just completed her second year with Hexagon as an applications engineer for our Romax product range in the USA.
Shreya is dedicated to the tech sector and she’s keen to help tackle the issue of gender diversity by inspiring more women to take up a similar career path.
Diversity inspires diversity
The problem is cyclical. Diversity leads to greater diversity, but the same is true for inequality.
Search for a list of renowned scientists. How many of them are women? There is a lack of great female role models inspiring young women to go on and pursue a STEM career, and the few that are well known suffered great injustices during their lives.
Marie Curie had to study in secret and she was nearly overlooked for her first Nobel prize. It took the intervention of a man (her husband) to get the recognition she deserved. Rosalind Franklin, whose work led to the discovery of the DNA structure, was subject to great inequality. She never received a Nobel prize while her male colleagues did.
What if Darwin, Newton and Einstein had been women? How far behind would we be while we waited for a man to come along and make the world listen? Conversely, we will never know what progress has been delayed or lost.
“We cannot succeed when half of us are held back”
Malala Yousafza (Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2017)
According to PwC’s research 88% of respondents couldn’t name a single female role model in STEM. In that kind of atmosphere, it’s not surprising that so many women choose alternative careers. Shreya makes the point that when we’re looking for employers, we want to work with people who understand us, people who have shared values and shared experiences. At a careers fair, for example, an organisation that demonstrates diversity in its staff will surely attract a greater diversity of applicants.
Hexagon’s employee mentor scheme has been a great help to Shreya, and many others. It’s set up to get young engineers on the path to career success and it’s helping address the issues of diversity and inclusion at Hexagon. Diversity matters a lot. It drives creativity and innovation but most importantly, it makes our employees feel like they belong to an organisation that cares about them as people and gives them the opportunity to develop and grow.
There are some very compelling benefits to pursuing a career in STEM. Shreya told us:
“A tech career helps you develop a scientific mindset. It teaches you to get to the root of a problem, by breaking it down into its fundamental parts. That’s a skill which will serve you in any area of your life.”
Shreya’s case is a great example of what’s possible and what the benefits are. She’s always been interested in STEM topics. Her parents, both engineers themselves, encouraged her to be inquisitive, to solve problems and seek explanations. As a child she entered science competitions and had some early successes which also helped spur her on.
Getting on the career path you want is rarely easy, but Shreya’s experience should be an inspiration to anyone facing challenges. She had to learn all the technical aspects of her career and navigate new cultural landscapes all while studying a master’s degree in another country.
“Achieving your goals means taking every opportunity that comes along. If they don’t happen you make your own, and above all, never waste time” says Shreya.
Shreya makes a very important point. We talk about making up lost time as if we can reverse the clock somehow, but the truth is this: you can never get back wasted time or missed opportunities. Case in point, Shreya found a full time position just days before the COVID pandemic hit and the company closed applications. If she’d procrastinated the opportunity would have been lost.
It poses the question, how many others didn’t make it? How many opportunities are missed? How many great women give up on their dreams and at what cost to the world?