The Confidence Factor for Women: Closing The Gap for Women In STEM

How Dr. Anna Powers of Powers Education is making the change for women.

I vividly remember my days in high school that women were not encouraged to pursue any of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) related careers or courses. Not to age myself, but in the 1990’s, we were still encouraged to do well in Art and Home Economics — both, of which, I actually failed.

However, times have changed and the age of tech is booming with a thriving economy of its own, yet, there is still a lack of emphasis on gender diversity. I recently gave a keynote in San Jose, California, considered the epicenter of Silicon Valley, and was shocked to notice the lack of women in STEM in top level leadership. Even more disappointing was the lack of consistent support to encourage more women in Silicon Valley to consider the field.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, “Our science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce is crucial to America’s innovative capacity and global competitiveness. Yet women are vastly underrepresented in STEM jobs and among STEM degree holders despite making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce and half of the college-educated workforce ... Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. This has been the case throughout the past decade, even as college educated women have increased their share of the overall workforce. Women hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering. Women with a STEM degree are less likely than,” (August 2011).

As we are working diligently on creating workable solutions to close the value gap for women in leadership at the Confidence Factor for Women, it is imperative that we partner with leading experts to open dialogue on changing the narrative for gender inclusion. Dr. Anna Powers, founder of Powers Education in New York City is a change agent in STEM, who is breaking down the barriers for entry in the field and simplifying the process for her students. Powers Education offers one on one tutoring and mentoring for women at the graduate level for women in STEM, which helps them transition successfully into the thriving and competitive world of STEM.

I recently sat down for a one on one conversation with Dr. Powers as we exchanged ideas on closing the gap in leadership.

Q. *What made you commence Powers Education*

A. The concepts behind Powers Education are something that I have been doing all my life. I’ve always been good at explaining complex ideas, and I’ve always enjoyed helping others. However, it was not until I started teaching at the university- level that I saw a need for an organization to nurture and empower women in STEM. I encountered young women who often felt shy about pursuing STEM, or that they were ‘not good at it’ and who in general were intimidated by the lack of women in the STEM fields.

Many thought leaders attribute the lack of women in STEM to negative stereotypes and to the lack of female role models. Powers Education breaks these negative stereotypes and provides our young women with role models and the support that they need. We are the change makers building a community of young women in STEM! And in doing so, we correct the image of science and allow women to open the door to lucrative and rewarding career opportunities in STEM.

Q. *We read the statistics about women in tech, and STEM daily, which continue to indicate that we have a decline of women in the field. Why do you believe STEM is imperative for women?*

A. I believe STEM is imperative for women because these are the fields that have always driven progress and innovation in our society. Currently STEM is interdisciplinary; math, computer science, biology, physics are no longer studied in a vacuum, instead they are studied together. And as a result of that we have many new fields. Biotechnology, is an example of this- which has revolutionized and prolonged the lives of many people. Another example is the fintech sector — there are a lot of STEM components to that field as well.

The problem that STEM fields have is that they are not considered ‘cool’, rather, they have an intimidating image. The image people associate STEM- a scientist working away in lab- is only one aspect of the STEM field. And even professions that are not associated with STEM, such as marketing, have increasingly become STEM oriented due to the fact technology has permeated our lives. Thus, in order to remain professionally competitive within the trend of digitalization in our society, it benefits more women to embrace the fields of STEM.

Q. *What tools/resources do you provide to get more women excited about STEM?

A. I think the best tool to excite women about the STEM fields are role models; seeing other women who are engaged, excited and successful in those fields — people who have the ability to inspire others. Once we bring women closer to the STEM fields by allowing them to interact with other women who are already in those fields, they then immediately realize that this where the future lies. The STEM fields hold tremendous potential: creating a societal impact, providing a versatile career path, increasing one’s intellectual merit, as well as the granting financial benefits. When women understand these capabilities, these fields become fun and exciting!

Q. *In the Confidence Factor for Women, we work with many women in under-represented industries, who often create limiting beliefs about their own potential, which limits their professional acceleration. Do you see the same issue in within STEM?*

A. Yes, I definitely think this is true. I often hear women say “I can’t do math” or “I am not good at science”. But in saying that, young women immediately limit themselves by erecting a boundary on their potential, which is simply not true.

When our mindset is limited, automatically our possibilities are as well. I think women have all the capabilities to be successful in STEM: I don’t believe every young women should do STEM but I definitely believe that she should feel that she can!

At Powers Education we break down this psychological barrier, by not only making science accessible through the Powers Method, but also by providing young women with role models and a community of other women in STEM — a space to find belonging and comfort. And so far, we have had great success!

Q. *Do you believe enough is done to encourage young girls to consider STEM related fields? Also, do you feel the same about women in tech?*

A. When I think about STEM in it I also include tech — because for me they are one in the same — it is all science, and in both fields we have very few women. I think the quantity of initiatives is not the main issue, rather it is how effective they are. If the numbers are not moving, and we still have very few women in these fields — at this point we know we have to change something. It is simple — if we are not seeing results we need to try a new approach. And, here at Powers Education we are doing that. We are actively changing the image of STEM, by using an innovative method that is based on years of experience and backed by research. We know what works and we get results. Our students chose careers in scientific fields, at the undergraduate level or in graduate school or while working.

Q. *Now, we all know there is an equal pay gap. We have a 20% deficit in compensation across the board in almost every profession. Do you believe the lack of women in specific fields contribute to the deficit?*

A. That’s a complex question. I definitely think that the lack of women in STEM fields contributes to this issue because are among the most lucrative fields. A low-level of representation is the first barrier. The lack of a community for women in STEM, decreases a sense of belonging for women who then start to feel lost. Also this trend makes it exceptionally hard for women to gain access to these fields. Consequently, I believe that when women support each other and uplift each other, it then becomes easier to penetrate certain industries and career paths. Once one sees someone like oneself, someone one can relate to — and seek advice from, a mentor, who can guide one along.

Another contributing factor to the gender deficit in compensation is how society teaches women to behave — physical qualities are emphasized. For example, popular magazines that target young female audiences, emphasize outer beauty, rather than focusing on professional and intellectual growth. Women are taught to be caring and nice, they are not taught to ask, they are taught to be less ‘confrontational’; in opposition starting from a young age, qualities such as negotiation are nurtured in men.Thus, in the workplace, women have a hard time asking for what they deserve and want.

Q. *We also know that women in tech are affected the most in the equal pay gap. What do you believe is a primary factor in the compensation deficit in such a demanding, and often lucrative, field? *

A. I think that the lack of women in the technical fields is amplified by two things:

  1. The image of tech — it is an intimidating as academic subject, both to men and women. So although it may be a lucrative career choice, people of both genders stay away from it because academically it sounds really tough.
  2. There is no community — and when there is no community and consequently it is difficult to find a sense of belonging in these industries.

I definitely think gaining access to women in tech rests on two pillars: teaching STEM concepts in an easily applicable manner to the tech industry, while simultaneously building a community of young women in those fields who can uplift each other, share experiences and form a bonds. The tech industry shifts to become a sector of inclusion.

Q. *What can we do to support more women to change the narrative around our value in the workplace?*

A. I think we need to emphasize the value of the skills sets that we have and to increase our standards for what we will accept and for what we will not accept. I think it comes down to being confident about what you bring to the table, knowing your value and then holding that position. We should not give in; we must learn to accept only the conditions that are favorable for us. If we accept lower than our standard, then at the end of the day, we are responsible for that.

Q. *What are the conversations you are having with your mentees around gender parity?*

A. I am very tough with my mentees when it comes down to career advice, really pushing them to understand and to internalize their value. I advise them to look at the value that they are bringing to the table, to ask for compensation for their services. Business is all about creating value — and if we create value then it is only fair to be rewarded for that achievement. And, most importantly, I tell my mentees that they cannot settle, they cannot give up — they must continue setting high standards both for themselves and for their employers.

Thank you Dr. Powers for all you are doing to support women leaders.

To learn more about Powers Education, visit http://www.powerseducation.com

Carol Sankar is a high level business consultant and the founder of The Confidence Factor for Women in Leadership, which is a global executive leadership firm focused on diversity and inclusion initiatives for high level women. Carol has been featured at TEDx, The Steve Harvey Show, Bounce TV, Inroads, The Society for Diversity, SHRM, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, Homevestors and more. For more details, visit www.carolsankar.com.

Like what you read? Give Carol Sankar a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.