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Katharine Zaleski On Closing the Diversity Gap in STEM

Date: 12 May 2016

Katharine Zaleski

Co-Founder and President, PowerToFly

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

I am the co-founder and president of – one of the fastest growing platforms that connects businesses with women in tech who can work from anywhere. We have about 80,000 women on the platform from over 143 countries who are connecting with companies like IBM, Hearst, Buzzed, and fast-growing start-ups.

My background in STEM is a bit convoluted. I’m not a developer, I am a woman who was trying to hire women in tech for many years. I have a digital media background, and I was the 6th employee of the Huffington Post. I was the news editor there for four and a half years before becoming The Executive Director of Digital at The Washington Post, and then the Founding Managing Editor of NowThis.

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

When you’re creating products you want a multitude of voices, otherwise it’s a bad product. It’s a big problem if you only have one gender actively creating products, especially when women are the biggest household spenders around the world. So there’s a big business case to employ more diverse teams. You also see a lot of studies that show when teams include women they collectively perform better. I’m also a great believer in equality when it comes to pay.  If you have a job that’s part of the innovation economy that pays well, then we’re going to see a huge lift in female representation across the world. 

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

There are so many challenges in reaching diversity, but I think the biggest challenge that companies aren’t actually paying attention to, is engaging the women who want to work right now. A huge amount of energy goes into talking about education, the future of women, and educating 14 year olds; it’s great that companies want to put funding into that, but they’re not very interested in changing how their workplaces function to bring in women who want to work now. 

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

I think to shape a work culture, we really have to pay attention to the future. Are we finally setting up offices in a way that welcomes women? Or diversity? Offices were set up one way – for men, which was generations ago. We’ve been asking women and people of color ever since to integrate into a system set up for white men. It’s not so much about flexibility, but more about ‘why are we bound to this idea that we have to commit to an office space every day?’ It’s about being productive from wherever you work best, and we know that women, and most people, aren’t productive working in an office all day. It’s really time to reconsider how we’ve set up offices if we want more diversity.  

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

If you’re going to work remotely you need to be an incredibly active communicator. You have to be bringing things to your boss way before your boss asks for them. You need to be proactive about scheduling and showing what you’ve contributed. You need to know numbers and stats – you’re not being valued just by being there anymore. I would really recommend being as proactive as possible.