Blog | Closing the gender gap for women in STEM professions in PH

By Divya Sharma

Our world today has transformed dramatically because of advances in technology — also considered to be one of the fastest growing areas of the global economy. However, even though opportunities abound, women in the Philippines are not benefiting from it as much as men. Worse, we’re even seeing women retreat from the fields of science and technology at alarming rates.

We are seeing this trend despite the Philippines’ ranking as 10th most gender equal in the world by the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report for 2017. The report found that although the progress of women in the Philippines in closing the gender gap stood at 79 percent, 11-percent higher than the global average, this is still 21 percent short of where men stand in four areas – Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment.

Other statistics also show that:

• The gap may further widen due to decreasing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) enrollments from women. For the academic year 2016-2017, the Commission on Higher Education reports that women comprise only 43% of STEM enrollments, lower than previous years and mostly in non-engineering or non-IT fields.

• Also, although there is no or only a very narrow gender gap in the number of STEM practitioners in the Philippines per se, according to a UNESCO study, the disparity is in the regional spread. A DOST Human Resources in Science & Technology study found that the majority of STEM workers are concentrated in the National Capital Region and its surrounding regions.

• Moreover, as the WEF study found, the area that needs most improvement is in the lack of economic participation of and opportunities for women in the Philippines even though we have already fully closed the gap in terms of educational attainment. Women in the country ranked much less than their male counterparts in terms of labor force participation, wage equality for similar work, estimated earned income, and in the number of women holding leadership positions in the workplace.

According to a recent study, “Empowering Women’s Success in Technology, IBM’s Commitment to Inclusion,” by IBM and the Boston College Center of Work & Family, opportunities for women in STEM are driven by inclusion across career environments, empowerment to think freely, and the ability for women to bring their “whole selves” to work.

The case study outlines how my company brings women in STEM together for development opportunities, provides them resources to advance their careers and share best practices across the industry. Here are three approaches to consider:

1) Identify talent early: Managers identify employees who are one, two, and three levels below the executive level – but already display extraordinary leadership – and initiate a development journey for them. In my company, we offer leadership programs specifically tailored for women, such as the Building Relationships and Influence (BRI) and the Creating Your Leadership Journey (CYLJ) programs.

2) Focus on technical women: As a technology company, we prioritize women for potential technical leadership roles and develop programs to advance women in those roles, especially because only 36% of our technical roles are performed by women. One program to develop a “pipeline” of talent aligns mid-career women with an executive coach and sponsor. At the same time, the program offers face-to-face workshops and learning labs, and creates a development roadmap to track progress and readiness for the next milestone in technical women’s career paths.

3) Lift up women — around the world: One program develops leadership skills through education, experience and access to opportunities tailored to individuals’ career paths. Called “Elevate,” the program is designed to accelerate the professional growth of high-potential mid-career IBM women. During the program, participants develop leadership skills.

High-potential women advance more slowly than their male peers, in terms of both career progression and pay, even though they employ career management strategies similar to men’s, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit workplace research firm.

“Gender parity is fundamental to whether and how economies and societies thrive. Ensuring the full development and appropriate deployment of half of the world’s total talent pool has a vast bearing on the growth, competitiveness and future-readiness of economies and businesses worldwide,” according to the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2017.

Organizations that fail to recognize women as critical talent-management participants risk lagging behind their competitors in attracting, developing, and retaining the best candidates to serve as the next generation of leaders.

My company has had a long history of supporting women in the workplace, which started in 1899 when the company hired its first female employee. The Work & Family study shows how our company links its culture to growing and supporting an inclusive work environment to create a culture where women in technology can thrive and succeed.

The 2018 Catalyst Award was recently given to IBM for its leadership in building a workplace that values diversity and inclusion. IBM is the only tech company honored this year — and the only company anywhere recognized for a fourth time.

There is a clear positive link, as research has shown, between increased gender diversity and financial results, across different industries and countries. Therefore, it is important to recognize the critical role women play in our global economy and that they must be present in the information technology industry, which drives innovation across all industries.

The author is the Country HR Leader of IBM Philippines. Her career spans across hospitality, outsourcing, and now information technology. She has deep expertise in international taxation, immigration, and employee and labor relations

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