The STEM workforce is crucial to building an innovative and competitive job market. However, women are vastly underrepresented in both the STEM workforce and in STEM degrees, despite making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce. There could be many possible factors contributing to why we see such a disconnect of women versus men in STEM jobs.
When I founded Chinova Bioworks in 2016, even though I had graduated with a degree in STEM, there was a lack of female role models within the industry. There is also a gender bias most people have when they envision a leader in this space. Even if a company has an equal number of females in STEM roles, those women typically do not hold senior leadership positions. This is not due to the fact that there are fewer qualified females who can take on these roles; it means males have been given more opportunities at the executive level.
Regardless of these factors, it is important to encourage and support women in STEM. Diversity and inclusion are not new concepts and are beneficial for businesses to increase employee retention and engagement which, in turn, helps foster a positive work environment and drive productivity and profitability. Further, company diversity fosters innovation and growth, with the most successful companies employing a diverse workforce.
In order to help women succeed within this field, employers need to expand their understanding and knowledge of the hurdles women face. It is not easy for women to enter this male dominated space and even harder for women to reach executive positions. A lack of inclusion and mentorship is a major factor noted by many women in STEM. One way for companies to help level the playing field is simply to promote women within the company. It is inspiring for young women to have a role model who looks like them taking on a leadership role that they can aspire to one day. Having women in leadership roles also allows for mentorship of women by women who have an understanding of the distinct challenges women face in STEM. If there are no women in leadership roles, it can be discouraging for women entering the workforce. That is why it is important that male leaders actively include and mentor their female employees to ensure they have access to the same opportunities as their male colleagues. In these situations, it can be helpful to start a workplace community of women where they can support each other and work to solve common issues together. For this to be effective, company leadership needs to be open to suggestions and improvements to their company culture. This will really help in achieving equality within the workforce, especially within leadership roles, and nurture a more collaborative and positive work environment.
The overarching theme is to make space for female voices and to listen. Women offer a unique perspective and it has been shown that the most successful companies have a diverse workforce. At Chinova Bioworks, our team is 90% women in STEM roles. We credit much of our success to our excellent team as well as the female led companies we collaborate with.
Some of the collaborating, female-run companies we are currently working with include Miyoko’s Creamery, Chrisoda and No Evil Foods. Working with other female founders has provided Chinova Bioworks an extraordinary opportunity to learn from their hurdles and successes while improving our mission and products. What do these other female founders say about opening up opportunities for women?
“It is a journey to become a great leader, so for females especially, it’s important to surround yourself with women of influence who don’t underestimate your own abilities,” said Miyoko Schinner, an American chef, best-selling cookbook author, animal sanctuary founder, and owner of the vegan cheese brand Miyoko's Creamery, a food brand combining culinary traditions with food technology to revolutionize dairy by making cheese and butter with plant milk.
Christine Manning, co-founder of Chrisoda, a cold-fermented, better-for-you soda with apple cider vinegar, said: “I’m a big believer that women should join forces. When you surround yourself with other talented and supportive females, it lifts everyone up. There’s lots of room for everyone to succeed, but as female leaders we have to be conscious of this and extend the opportunity or the life raft when needed.”
Sadrah Schadel, an animal rights advocate and co-founder of No Evil Foods, a plant-based meat company driven to transform how people think about the social and environmental impact of the food they eat, says, “As a female founder you can’t be afraid of breaking the mold. We don’t need to do things the way they’ve always been done. Diverting from what’s considered to be the standard path and showing other women that they too can succeed by taking a new approach is important.”
Being intentional about collaborations with female founders is a part of what has made Chinova Bioworks highly successful. Because of this, we actively seek other partnerships with female-led and owned companies. Now it is your turn! If you are a STEM company, make it intentional and prioritize and utilize the wealth of talent that women have to offer.