How 2020 can be a tipping point for women in STEM

As we welcome 2020 with ambitions set high for greater diversity and inclusion in the workforce, it provides us with an opportunity to reset our goals for the year ahead.

Girls in Tech is committed to leveling the playing field for women in STEM, helping tens of thousands of individuals every year achieve their greatest professional potential. I founded the organization more than a decade ago after I — as the lone female executive working at a Silicon Valley startup — endured daily discrimination and harassment simply because of my gender. Out of the helplessness grew a passion to help other women navigate the male-dominated industry.

While many organizations — notably arts and entertainment institutions influenced heavily by the Me Too Movement and Time’s Up movement — are striving for 50/50 gender equality by 2020, the unfortunate reality is that the tech industry has a long way to go to get anywhere near this number. It’s predicted the tech industry won’t near gender equality until closer to 2025.

But progress is happening. Many organizations now have leadership positions focused on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I); take Lesley Slaton Brown, Chief Diversity Officer of HP, Inc., who, for more than a decade, has helped make HP one of the most diverse and inclusive organizations in the tech industry. Another great leader in the space is Twitter’s VP of Diversity and Inclusion Candi Castleberry Singleton, who aims for organizational change that builds D&I into core business practices. With the leadership of executives in D&I roles and companies that are committed to embracing change, we can get there.

There is good reason to speed up the pace. A recent study by BCG suggests that “increasing the diversity of leadership teams leads to more and better innovation and improved financial performance.” BCG looked at 1,700 different companies across 8 different countries, with varying industries and company sizes. The study found that increasing diversity directly impacts the bottom line. In fact, the report found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue due to innovation.

This finding is huge for tech companies, startups and industries where innovation is the engine of growth. Clearly, D&I is more than just a metric to tick off on a list of “to-dos,” but it’s an integral part of a profitable business. Simply stated, more diversity equals to more money.

So how do we get there as individuals? I’ve learned a lot during my journey from startup exec to founder and hope these tips will be useful as you embark on your own career.

  • Recruit a “personal advisory board” of experienced professionals to act as mentors, therapists, and cheerleaders for you. They can be tremendously valuable guides to lean on when you’re faced with important decisions, complex challenges and unique workplace relationships. People to consider for your board may include a former boss, a peer within your industry, a family friend who has relatable experience and maybe even a willing college professor. Meet with them regularly, in-person, over the phone, or via video conference to talk about the highs and lows of your career. They can help reality check you when it comes to sticking to your own goals. And they can be immensely valuable when it comes to needing a little extra guidance in otherwise sticky situations.
  • Seek employment opportunities with companies that have high “culture scores,” including compensation parity, D&I initiatives, training and benefits. Find a culture score using online sites like Comparably. If you’re looking to be with an organization that accommodates disabilities, look up their score using the Disability Equality Index. Use sites like to LinkedIn to scan your network to find connection points inside the organization you can talk with in advance to learn more about the culture. And, consider checking any number of online resources like Glassdoor that offer anonymous reviews of companies from current and former employees. When you score the big interview, query about the culture with detailed questions that address these areas. Every recruiter will tell you their company has a “great culture,” but ask the tough questions that really prove they’re putting their money where their mouth is.
  • Speak up in the boardroom or conference room. Your ideas matter. Don’t be afraid to share them and join the debate. Ask questions and seek clarification if you don’t understand what’s being presented – chances are you aren’t the only one. Also, take a seat at the table…literally. I’ve seen many women choose the seats against the walls, instantly sending the message that you’re “lesser than.”
  • Stand up to bullies. Bullies come in many shapes and sizes, both women and men. Squashing bullies can be one of the hardest things to do in your professional life. It’s important to not be guided by your emotions. If you’re bullied, take a deep breath, count to three and collect your thoughts to determine your next move. You may say, “may we have a moment in private later this afternoon to discuss this?” This puts the bully on notice and ensures you address the behavior in a timely manner… while still giving yourself time to collect your thoughts. If someone is using emails to bully you – don’t respond right away. Instead, wait a few hours to respond. Also, consider responding to a email by picking up the phone or stopping by in-person to continue the conversation. You’re likely to find that bullies hide behind emails and are disarmed when confronted with two-way dialogue. Finally, if the problem persists, document the offensive interactions by jotting down the date, time, and details of the bullying. Use this information to seek guidance from the Human Resources team. If HR isn’t helping to solve the problem and the harassment and discrimination persist, consider enlisting assistance from an employment lawyer to help defend your rights. This is particularly advisable if you have been dismissed from an organization without cause. And, if you’re the boss, do not tolerate bullying of your team. It’s important to stop the behavior immediately for the betterment of your team and the entire organization.
  • Take yourself seriously and make decisions confidently. Rethink all those exclamation points and smiley faces in emails — while they’re fine in certain situations, they can also come off as cutesy and unprofessional. Women, in particular, tend to “soften” conversations by these typographical shows of emotion. Know your audience and how to motivate them — if you’re in charge of planning the week’s softball game, you may want to use exclamation marks to get the team excited, but it’s entirely different to use exclamation points when you’re asking for project status. When it comes to verbal communications, pay attention to all the nonsense words like “just” or “uhm” that can undermine your leadership. Inflection, too, can play a role in how others perceive your confidence. A statement is a statement so don’t present it like it’s a question.
  • Don’t default to saying “it’s ok” or “no big deal” unless you really mean it. For example, if someone is late or does something that doesn’t sit well with you, consider saying “I understand that happens sometimes.” Or, if they preemptively apologize, say “apology accepted.” This way, you aren’t dismissing the impact their action has on you. And you’re not inadvertently giving permission for the action to happen again.

And finally, remember to throw the ladder back down and help other young women reach for the stars by sharing the resources and insights you’ve learned along the way. Volunteer to be a mentor at the company where you work. If there is no formal mentorship program, offer to help create one. Look for opportunities outside the organization to help other women — there are countless non-profits that could your help. As Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world.”