By Terri Hartwell Easter
It is no secret that STEM workers have been the unicorn in recruiting for the last decade, avidly sought but seemingly impossible to find. The shortage of STEM expertise is well documented and seems only to be getting worse. The National Association of Manufacturing and Deloitte recently reported that in the U.S. alone, 3.5 million STEM jobs will need to be filled by 2025. The rub is that more than 2 million of those positions will not be filled because of the lack of highly skilled candidates. How is this possible? And more to the point, what can be done to stem the tide?
Closer to home, Delaware is not immune to the challenges of finding and keeping STEM workers. For the last eight years, my consultancy has had the opportunity and challenge of filling senior-level management and STEM positions in the state. Delaware is home to a diverse array of businesses across financial services, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, energy and chemicals, but lacks a sizeable talent pool. A recent report from the Delaware Business Roundtable cited the ability to attract and retain young educated professionals as a threat to the state’s economic growth into the future.
While the challenge of attracting STEM workers is real, a hyper-focus on female STEM candidates may be Delaware’s answer to this conundrum. We have the necessary ingredients, including a healthy percentage of women in STEM positions — in health technology, computer, engineering and science — to establish ourselves as a beacon for women in STEM; it is a matter of approaching such an effort as a united front.
We believe Delaware has a head start in this endeavor, as WalletHub ranked the state ninth among the country’s “Most Innovative States” measured by the quality of its STEM workforce, among other criteria. We see a unique opportunity to leverage the state’s existing assets to build greater diversity by attracting women to area and to its STEM landscape. It is conceivable that Delaware could lead the country as the preeminent home for women in STEM.
Here’s what attracting women in STEM can look like for Delaware:
1. Leverage existing assets. Showcase the State’s already healthy mix of STEM businesses, including E.I. DuPont, Chemours, W. L. Gore, AstraZeneca and Centrica.
2. Tell a great story. Feature the more-than-respectable footprint of top women in leadership roles, including women who served as CEOs of its most prominent chemicals companies; women who lead two of the top four-year universities; women who lead major state government agencies; and women who lead in philanthropy.
3. Inspire and connect. Grow and nurture organizations like Million Women Mentors, which are focused on inspiring girls to go into STEM.
4. Show the money. Address the pay gap that exists between women and men in STEM roles. According to a Bloomberg analysis, a list of 20 best-paid STEM occupations, ranked by pay parity, shows that women occupy an average of one-fifth the jobs and are paid an average 89 cents for every dollar a man earns in top U.S. science, technology, engineering and mathematics positions.
5. Sustain to grow. Strengthen networks for women to support each other and that encourage young women to stay here and in STEM professions. Such networks help women integrate both professionally and socially while mitigating feelings of isolation prevalent in organizations with low numbers of women represented in STEM functions.
Through such a holistic effort, women would be attracted both to Delaware’s job opportunities and its commitment to the institutional support so vital to women’s success and overall business growth in the long term. Clearly the foundation for this initiative exists. What’s left to do? Make Delaware not just hospitable to, but a beacon for women who seek to trailblaze in STEM.
Terri Hartwell Easter is the founder and principal of T.H. Easter Consulting, which brings innovative thinking and approaches to some of the toughest human resources challenges and revenue growth goals. With offices in Wilmington, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., more information is available at www.theasterconsulting.com.