6 Trends impacting women in STEM

To future-proof your business, invest in early talent women in STEM—who can lead innovation for years to come.

Historically, “tech” roles have been occupied by white males with a 4-year degree from a name-brand academic institution. Yet despite advances in education and achievement, women in STEM continue to be underrepresented in the workforce. While they make up nearly half of US workers, they account for only 27% of STEM workers

Together, we can drastically increase that proportion.

Focusing your women in STEM hiring on early talent, your hiring and onboarding costs can be ~180% less than hiring an executive-level employee.

Dig into these 6 trends impacting women in STEM, and learn what they can mean for your overall hiring strategy.

1. Women in STEM need more role models

Think about career paths for early talent before, during, and after school. Role models can have a dramatic influence on young women’s career choices, with data showing the number of girls interested in STEM almost doubles when they have a role model to inspire them (41%) compared to those who do not (26%). Throughout their journeys through school and work, mentorship builds confidence and provides women with networking opportunities that can unlock equity.

What does this mean for your talent recruiting strategy?

Build relationships with student organizations like the Society of Women Engineers and Women in Computer Science to cultivate relationships with women in STEM throughout their time in school. Think even earlier than college students and recent grads about how to cultivate and inspire STEM careers with a company like yours. For instance, partner with youth-focused organizations like the Girl Scouts or Girls Who Code. Invite women who are in STEM roles at your company to speak at events, volunteer, and network with promising young talent—and inspire lifelong interests.

Learn how Coding it Forward, a nonprofit that connects early tech professionals with opportunities in the public sector, used Handshake Advocates to connect candidates from underrepresented backgrounds to alumni in similar roles and achieve a 187% increase in applicants from underrepresented groups

2. Women in STEM are enrolled in all types of educational programs

Universities, colleges, and alternative training providers like bootcamps are investing more resources toward empowering more young women to pursue STEM degrees and careers. Cornell Engineering’s Class of 2021 was the first in the college’s history to enroll more women than men.

Hear inspiring leaders from Lost Women of Science, UNCF, Spelman College, and Handshake in this fireside chat about blazing trails for Black women in STEM careers

What does this mean for your talent recruiting strategy?

Your school network is a critical piece of your early talent recruiting strategy. Make sure you’re connecting to the early talent pools of women in STEM students that you’re looking for. For instance, if you’re using a core schools strategy, there is probably bias in your hiring process. To unlock access and equity for women in STEM, sourcing from a wide range of schools is key.

Encourage your employees who are women in STEM to teach and network at bootcamps, and recruit from the growing number of tech training providers on Handshake. By doing so, you’re also helping expand the community of role models for women exploring STEM careers, and supporting career mobility.

Handshake Pathfinders has a free, SHRM-accredited course on why and how expanding your school network will allow you to build a pipeline of diverse and qualified talent. →

3. Women in STEM are more likely to major in life sciences than engineering

While 34.4% of STEM graduates are women, they’re proportionally more represented in life and social science majors like Biology and Psychology. Women in STEM occupations are still underrepresented in engineering and computer science

What does this mean for your talent recruiting strategy?

One way to discover more women who can fill STEM roles is to broaden your student search beyond major. Limiting a search to women Computer Science majors, for example, would narrow your funnel too much. But if you expand your filters to include skills or even interests, you can discover women who upskill to meet your team’s particular needs, and bring unique perspective to your org.

According to Handshake data, a skills-based approach to recruiting tech talent can result in a 3x increase in women candidates.

4. Women in STEM are looking for representation

According to a Handshake Network Trends survey, 65% of Gen Z women look for women in leadership roles before applying for a job at a company. Women want to know that there are career paths for them before committing to any given company. 

What does this mean for your talent recruiting strategy?

There are many, many ways to uplevel your employer brand to show and tell women’s stories, and be more inclusive of women’s candidate experience. For instance, the language in job descriptions can actually persuade or dissuade women candidates from applying to certain roles—especially in STEM. Avoiding gendered words like “ninja” is more welcoming for women. 

During the recruiting process, expose URGs and other ways for women in STEM to feel belonging. Microsoft’s Codess community, as described in detail on their careers page, offers mentorship and networking. Cultivating alumni connections can open doors for women in STEM to see themselves in your organization.

Need inspiration for transforming how you can attract women in STEM students? Check out how Merck paints a picture of strong career paths for women in a male-dominated field.

5. Women in STEM are benefitting from virtual recruiting

Handshake Network Trends report, Who Wins with Virtual Recruiting?, revealed data that women found virtual career events and interviews to be less anxiety-inducing and more accessible when compared to meeting with prospective employers in person. A Handshake student survey found that 85% of respondents prefer attending an event before applying to a job—and that women are 26% more likely than men to embrace developing relationships virtually.

What does this mean for your talent recruiting strategy?

Virtual recruiting strategies can help correct for historic gender inequity in recruiting. Now that you can find talent anywhere, the massive and rapid scaling of remote work has the potential to level the gender equality gap. Using career fairs and virtual events as an example, the barrier to entry and time commitment is much lower than an in-person event (you might find the same is true for yourself!)—and so is the intimidation factor. 

6. Women in STEM want, and need, professional development

A Handshake survey revealed that 62% of students attend career events to ensure there are growth and development opportunities. Our data also found that over 90% of students and recent alumni expect substantial professional development from their employer.

What does this mean for your talent recruiting strategy?

Use events to offer transparency into career pathways should begin before new hires join. For instance, host a panel and invite both early career employees as well as more seasoned women in STEM to discuss their progression within your organization. Empower women that emerging talent is welcome at your company by establishing pathways for career changers. Along with developing women in STEM talent once they join your organization, it’s important to note that promoting women as they progress in their careers is a critical component of any DEI strategy.

Recruiting a more equitable STEM workforce 

To compete for top early talent and squeeze the most juice out of digital channels, you’re probably seeing a shift from seasonal recruiting to “always-on.” This is especially true for recruiting tech talent today. To future-proof your business, invest in early talent women who can become STEM workers and leaders—and lead innovation for years to come.