According to a new study by Burning Glass Technologies and Strada, women are underemployed right from the beginning of their careers. Specifically, 47% of female college graduates are initially underemployed, while only 37% of male graduates have that problem — and when you start out behind, it’s hard to close that gap.

While STEM students are most likely to be employed, women with math degrees are still more underemployed than men with the same degrees — both in their first job, and their job five years later. With this data in mind, how do we combat underemployment, the ever-looming challenge of the pay gap, and other obstacles women face in the workplace?

STEM has been an important part of my life since I was young, and I’ve been lucky enough to witness and be part of seismic shifts in the STEM world throughout my studies and career. While women in STEM are being recognized for their work and are changing the industry, we cannot become complacent; there is a long way to go in terms of equity for women across disciplines and cultures in the science and tech space.

As someone who has steadily worked her way up in the male-dominated industry to Senior Vice President of Operations and General Manager of The Software Guild, I’ve learned a great deal. If you want to really stand out in a STEM vocation, these are the strategies that make all the difference.

  • Embrace the Puzzles – An inevitable part of working in STEM are the puzzles, and they can be daunting. However intimidating, don’t shy away from these challenges; rather, proactively identify problems and find solutions. This attitude will help your company — and your career. Whether it is a seemingly impossible math problem, or coding a website from scratch, diving in is the best option. Get lost in the details, utilize your puzzle-solving skills, and becoming a problem solver. Become invaluable! Embrace puzzles and pursue creative solutions, and you will certainly stand out in STEM.
  • Look to the Future – Staying up-to-date on trends in your industry (and outside it!) and being mindful of the possibilities of the future unlock creativity and innovation. When Dorothy Vaughan saw men setting up a computer in Hidden Figures, she learned the FORTRAN programming language and trained a group of women to work the computer with her, making them invaluable. You can become indispensable too, by looking forward — which can be as simple as reading articles on the Future of Work to participating in seminars and training courses. Aiming to be ahead of the curve marks you as a leader and asset in business.
  • Learn to Code – Coding is a skill that has become vital across industries – from healthcare to marketing. In fact, it is a practical skill in which all women should invest; our world is being built with code! The more you know about it, the bigger difference you’ll be able to make — and the more valuable you’ll be to your boss. What’s more, coding can continually be built upon if the coder takes initiative. It can provide a stable, exciting career across industries — but especially in STEM.
  • Invest in Your Employees – For female leadership, it is natural to foster the careers of our female employees. It is our duty to provide encouragement and avenues for our employees to grow, whether that be implementing in-office programs or sending employees to outside programs. Many companies invest in their employees through training partnerships with companies like The Software Guild, and as an office leader, you can build those partnerships for the benefit of your employees.

While I can provide tips, it is up to you to practice them. I challenge you to begin using one of these strategies in the next week. Change will not come overnight; determination is key. By persevering, we can make STEM a place where women really thrive.

Rachel McGalliard has devoted her education and career to STEM and expanding the pathways of STEM education. She is the senior vice president of operations and general manager for The Software Guild, and serves on the Learning House Leadership Team, where she works to expand Software Guild initiatives into the university space to close the gap on the tech talent shortage. 

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