The issue of diversity and inclusion doesn't merely begin when working in STEM fields, but rather much sooner, perhaps even before applications! This week in the diversity diaries, we asked our industry contributors their thoughts on how we can encourage more young women to aspire to work in STEM! Let us know your thoughts!

Rana el Kaliouby, CEO, Affectiva

It’s really important for leaders in STEM to provide meaningful internship opportunities for students throughout all stages of their education, so these students can experience what a career in STEM would be like. This can start early, including high school, undergraduate, graduate and even Ph.D. students, giving them hands-on experience that will not only foster their interest in STEM, but also create a pipeline for hiring. It’s also about forging relationships with science graduates and supporting them. Aspiring STEM professionals need mentors who look like them so that they can envision a future for themselves in the field – this is especially important for women and other people who are minorities in STEM. I truly believe that a good mentor can make the difference in anyone’s career.

Alexia Jolicoieur-Martineau, AI Researcher, MILA

Better work-life balance in academia and STEM jobs, strict anti-harassment policies, and less requirements for fancy degrees (so that someone doesn’t have to choose between a PhD or a non-science job; they can get a job with a B.Sc.). Anything can be learned in a job, including research; the PhD is just a way for universities to get cheap labour, I disagree with the system.

Georgia Gkioxari, Research Scientist, Facebook AI Research

If I were to guess, I would say, perhaps because of the concentration of most STEM jobs in big urban cities. I can see how life in the Bay Area or New York city is not a desirable choice for everyone. Bad work-life balance, a common issue in STEM jobs, could be another issue that deters graduates from picking this path.

Sarah Laszlo, Senior Neuroscientist, X the moonshot factory

I’m a lead currently growing my team, so I've been thinking about this question a lot: how do I get people interested in my work so they’ll come work with me?

I realized with some surprise that -- although my role has changed from academia to industry -- the answer hasn’t. There are two key ingredients: excitement and trust. First, you have to get people excited by showing them the full potential of what you are doing — and trying to light up that same excitement in them. Then, you have to show that you will support them in following that light.

When I was a professor trying to recruit students, I had to get them excited about what I was doing, and I had to show that I would treat them well. I would tell them about my research, of course, with characteristic enthusiasm, and try to help them to see why working on *my* projects would be fulfilling and exciting.  But, just as importantly, I would introduce potential students to my current students so that the potentials would have the opportunity to ask the current students how they were treated in the lab (if you are visiting a graduate school and do not get an unsupervised-by-faculty opportunity to talk to current graduate students, this is a red flag).   Hearing from current students that my lab was one where the Principal Investigator was present, was supportive, was trustworthy, was better for recruitment than any sales pitch I could have given myself. I believe that that combination of excitement and mission with safety, and a track record of supportive action, is what enabled me to recruit so many strong students.

Now, of course, I work in Silicon Valley. But once again, my edge in attracting people is to get them excited about what they’ll be working on, while also showing my commitment to supporting my team in my actions.  If a potential hire needs to know that I am going to be reachable, that I listen, that I am patient and not fazed by failure, then I need to show all of those characteristics in my work every day, so that when my candidate reaches out to their professional network to learn about me, they hear that all of that is true.

In some ways, it’s tautological: you get people interested in your job by getting them interested in it. But you can’t get people interested in STEM, or any field, by showing the benefits package or talking about the prestige of the job. Instead, you have to ignite that light in them. That light is the edge. That light is what your candidates will follow to work with you, and it’s what guides you to work with people that are committed to the same ideas that you are, no matter what field you’re in.

Julia Rabin, Project Lead, Diversity VC

I think the answer isn’t to only focus on STEM graduates but graduates from all subjects. Reach out to humanities students and offer them the opportunity to learn new skills for the job. Casting a wider net will increase interest in the industry and also ensure diversity of thought amongst those that work there.

Chanuki Seresinhe, Visiting Researcher, The Alan Turing Institute and Lead Data Scientist, Popsa

I don’t blame these graduates as most of the jobs out there are still only appeal to certain types of people. I definitely didn’t like the idea of working in a male-dominated ego-driven atmosphere. I am not saying that all male-dominated atmospheres are like that, but some are like that because of the type of people they have hired in the first place. If companies want a more diverse group of people working together, they need to actually create a work atmosphere that appeals to a diverse group of people. So things that are important are good communication, willingness to collaborate, care for wellbeing and so on, which are completely normal in other fields but are sometimes severely lacking in STEM fields.

Julia Kroll, Data & ML Engineer, Amazon

To increase the number of new science grads choosing STEM jobs, expose college students and new grads to complex real-world problems and show them how engaging and meaningful a STEM career can be. Data science tends to be popular with career changers, so increasing awareness at the college level will enable people to choose it as a career path earlier in their lives.

Bianca Curutan, Software Engineer, Postmates

As I mentioned previously, I think exposure is a big part of promoting diversity. For this question, however, I choose to emphasize the exposure of members of diverse groups who already work in tech, particularly within leadership and higher levels of management. For example, as a minority woman working in tech, I find it helpful to meet and/or learn from other minority women in tech who may have similar experiences to mine and may have faced comparable challenges. I especially try to be mindful of leaders and people managers since that is the career pathway I am aspiring towards.

We were also delighted to have 16 year old student, Riya, a tech enthusiast and innovator from Toronto who is currently working as an artificial intelligence & genomic researcher under the Hospital for Sick Children reach out to us with an answer!  

Riya Mehta, Tech Enthusiast, The Knowledge Society

I want to cater this question a little bit to personal experience. I'm 16 years old and an active women in the STEM industry, so I definitely understand and have been researching the job market within AI, health tech, and exponential innovation. I also attend high school at the same time, so going through that process and being a student I also see where many people say that they often need real life experiences and hands on options to be involved within the STEM industry, especially for women. I'm a huge believer that if we want to cater people to be interested within STEM jobs, we need 3 main factors:

  • Exposure to real life placements within the STEM fields, and actively promoting co op in within these sectors (research placements, shadowing)
  • But probably the most important factor is accomplished & dedicated mentors being catered to graduates who are looking for guidance
  • And probably a more subtle solution, but making women & men realize their personal power within STEM

To point number one, I've personally been working as a youth researcher at SickKids in Toronto, and am exposed to placements that I could not have received simply learning content from a textbook. In our growing era, we need more hands on activities for graduates if we want them to be interested in a hands on field. To the 2nd point, I can also personally attest to this, because I have sought out incredible mentors that have taught me more than I could teach myself in s lifetime, within STEM, AI, tech and more.

But I don't necessarily want other graduates to follow my path with hustling for these mentors for the most part. I believe that institutions & the government can take a more responsible role even still paying attention to their recent graduates and making mentors more accessible to them, especially those who can interest others in the STEM fields. If these resources were more accessible, than we would have a lot more options for people to be in stem so they can have that option available to them.

To the 3rd point, I don't hear this one being broadcasted enough, but to be honest, this is probably one of the most important determinants to pushing those towards STEM, is realizing their own potential within it. Especially for women, I can speak from experience that I sometimes felt as if I was the youngest one, and the only women in a room bring in this industry, and while diversity is an ongoing issue, I had to rely a lot on my own personal power & mentors to tell myself I could do this and eventually be an industry leader.

Next week we will be discussing practical steps to increasing diversity and inclusion! Keep your eyes peeled for the next upload!

Interested in being part our mentorship scheme to support women in AI? Either as a mentor or a mentee? See more here.