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Anna Beninger On Closing the Diversity Gap in STEM

Date: 13 May 2016


Anna Beninger
Director of Research at Catalyst 

1. What do you do and what is your background in STEM?

I’m Director of Research at Catalyst, an international non-profit organization working to accelerate progress for women through workplace inclusion. Recently, I have been leading our research on women in STEM, specifically focused on exploring the challenges and the opportunities in the sector.

2. Why do you believe in supporting diverse STEM talent?

Everyone should have access to equal opportunities across industries, and especially in STEM fields. It also makes really good business sense; organizations with more women in senior leadership roles and on their boards, perform better financially than those who have fewer or no women. Diverse teams are more innovative because they challenge each other. When we consider how STEM industries – specifically the technology sector, are shaping our daily lives, it’s crucial that a diverse range of perspectives are represented to ensure the greatest impact.

3. What is the biggest challenge in achieving STEM diversity?

Culture. The image of the ‘brogrammer’ culture really reigns in technology. The fact is that this reputation is well deserved, seen through statistics released by tech firms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Apple. But this is not just a problem for technical talent. Our research at Catalyst shows that women working on the business side of things in STEM face significant challenges compared to people doing the same job in non-STEM industries. This really is a pervasive cultural problem in STEM companies, which makes it a challenge for women at all levels.

4. What inclusive hiring strategies do you see as key for closing the STEM diversity gap?

Getting men involved in the conversation, and more importantly, becoming active participants in finding solutions is hugely important. One specific example of that is recruiting senior male executives to sponsor up-and-coming female talent. Other specific strategies include making performance standards crystal clear. One of the big challenges in STEM companies is the impact of unconscious bias on how people are evaluated and promoted. We found that men are overwhelmingly promoted on potential, while women on proven performance. 
Finally we need to evaluate organizational culture – so ruling out sexism, and making sure everyone feels included through inclusive leadership.

5. What is your advice to diverse talent looking to join or progress within the STEM sector?

There are two concrete strategies to progressing within STEM. The first is making your accomplishments known; people need to recognize what you accomplish so they can tap you for new opportunities. The second is gaining access to powerful people who can sponsor you, such as senior level leaders in organizations who sit at those key decision making tables. They will be able to put your name forward for critical development opportunities and promotions.