When Sabine Bendiek first embarked on her journey towards the tech industry, there were even fewer women in tech roles than there are today. In Bendiek’s words, “Women in the tech industry used to be exotic.”
While times have moved on, there are still significantly more men in STEM fields. Less than one in three of the current ICT workforce is female, and there are almost four times more men than women studying ICT worldwide. A total of 83 percent of male undergraduates have taken coding or computing classes, compared to 68 percent for women, and women represent only 21.5% of all workers in digital jobs.
Cleary, there is more work to be done to bridge the gender gap in STEM.
In addition to the diversity issues, we are also facing an impending skills gap in the workforce. By 2020, we could be facing a shortage of 500,000 digital workers. Without women in STEM fields, which lie at the heart of modern innovation, hundreds of thousands of jobs could go unfulfilled.
While there is no single magic bullet solution to increasing the number of girls and women pursuing STEM, research such as that carried out by Microsoft, UNESCO, and Accenture, shows that two important factors for girls’ engagement with STEM are their exposure to positive role models, and practical, real-world experiences of subjects matter.
The path to tech, and a passion for creativity
Sabine has been the Managing Director of Microsoft Germany since January 2016. Holding a MSc degree in Management Science from MIT and a BA degree in Economics from the University of Mannheim, her role sees her assume responsibility for all business activities in the German market, focusing on the transformation of the company into a provider of hybrid cloud and software solutions.
Despite her current role, Bendiek didn’t start off her studies with a specific tech discipline in mind. Her path to Microsoft began with her studies in business management, before she became intrigued by her modules on data processing – so much so, in fact, that she went on to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Despite tech fields being associated with hard numbers, equations and precision, the importance and role of creativity in STEM fields isn’t lost on Germany’s Managing Director: “Enthusiasm for technology has always played an important role, but I also find topics such music, art and theatre fascinating, because they are deeply human forms of expression. At the end of the day, as a manager, I can benefit from both curiosity for technology, and people.”
Initiatives such as Microsoft’s Hacking STEM play a key role in making the sciences a fun experience while, crucially, demonstrating real-world uses for what students are learning. The Microsoft Innovative Educators (MIE) programme also showcases teachers who are aware of the importance in nurturing creativity by using technology to help spark passion.
The programme combines these two important factors – creativity and real-world examples – to encourage girls and young women to pursue their STEM interests while showcasing that creativity isn’t just limited to subjects outside of STEM.
The importance of role models
One way in which more girls and young women can be swayed towards STEM, is exposing them to more positive role models. Microsoft’s research has shown that, in general, across Europe, the presence of a role model almost doubles interest in STEM, while boosting confidence across all subjects.
“Role models are very important,” Bendiek states. “The majority of girls in Germany think of a man first when they imagine a scientist. Our research shows that almost every second girl wants more female role models in the world of work. This is also something I became aware of only step by step as a manager. Women who have advanced in the tech sector have an important role, a responsibility. I am even more aware of this today, than at the beginning of my career.”
Microsoft’s study has also shown that for STEM subjects, only role models in STEM fields have a significant impact on girls – celebrities have no impact on inspiring girls to take up STEM subjects. Discussing her own role models, Bendiek states that “To me, it’s very inspiring to see the amazing things everyone can achieve in everyday life, from family members and friends, with employees and colleagues – and especially as women!”
“When I experience something astonishing, it always gives me a little more strength and determination. When I started my career at the computer pioneer Nixdorf, women in tech were still unusual. Today, we meet women at all levels & functions. But we still have to attract and develop more talents.”
For more information on Girls in STEM, including Microsoft’s research, articles and resources, please visit our ‘Changing the face of STEM’ hub.