We all know how important the next generation is to our future, but it’s easy to lose sight of that when we’re stuck in the now — running to meetings, making a sale, or just trying to get done the tasks in front of you. Despite this, we have a responsibility to do our part in helping to set up future generations for success.
As retail continues to become more digital, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) roles are becoming essential to the industry as retailers use technology to give the customer the best experience possible, online and offline. Currently, there’s a huge gender gap in STEM professions, with men dominating the fields. This affects all industries, but for retail it’s especially concerning considering a gender gap already exists, with only 12.5 percent of retail apparel companies having women CEOs.
A session at the National Retail Federation Big Show earlier this month in New York City, a panel of retail executives addressed how brands can get more women into STEM positions. Session moderator Shelley Zalis, CEO, The Female Quotient, asked panelists Karen Beebe, chief information officer, Vineyard Vines; Karen Etzkorn, chief information officer, Qurate Retail Group; Kristen Maynes, director, cybersecurity consulting, PwC; and Emma Williams, corporate vice president, Office, Microsoft, what we all should be doing to encourage more girls to pursue careers in STEM during the Future-Proof Retail: Getting More Girls in STEM panel in the FQ Lounge.
1. Start early.
In order to get more girls into STEM and keep them interested, Beebe believes we need to start engaging them early, before the age of 12 or 13. She explained that she got an email from a woman recently who brought her three daughters to an event held by Unilever, and after attending the event one of her daughters expressed interest in going into computer science. “She left that event just from that one day of exposure, saying, ‘I want to go into computer science,’” Beebe explained. “So, it’s about getting that information to them at a young age and getting them excited about it vs. the biases we currently have.”
2. Make technology approachable.
Etzkorn believes one key to getting more girls into STEM is to make technology more approachable for them. “I think one of the challenges young girls have is they’re fearful [of technology],” she said. She explained that often when girls go to school, STEM is presented as something only boys do. “We need to wrap our arms around all these little girls and make sure they understand that they can have a career in technology […] just as much as boys,” said Etzkorn.
3. Be a role model.
Another idea Etzkorn shared was that women leaders who are currently working in STEM can partner with schools (e.g., middle schools, high schools, even colleges) to be role models for girls and show them working in STEM as a woman is possible. “We can help them understand that yes, there is a career here, and no, it’s not that hard.”
4. Identify unconscious bias.
Finally, and possibly the most important solution, Maynes explained, is for us all to recognize our own unconscious biases towards promoting STEM to boys and not girls, and to work towards fixing it. “I would speculate that most of the folks in this room are very comfortable with and are aware of [unconscious bias], and do our best to share that concept,” Maynes said. “What I’m worried about is the people outside of this room who maybe don’t have the same type of appreciation or awareness of either their own unconscious biases or helping others identify their own.” Maynes added that giving leaders and teachers at all levels training on unconscious biases will help girls in the long run.