Diversity Workplace

How Can We Empower The Next Generation Of Women In STEM? 

Illustration of woman working on a computer.

By Athina Kanioura, Ph.D.

As a child, I always wanted to be a scientist. I was inspired by women like Marie Curie throughout my years in academia. Without their research we wouldn’t have the resources and tools we have today. Women have made countless contributions to scientific advancement throughout history, yet we continue to be underrepresented.

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According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women make up half of the overall workforce, but just 34% of STEM positions. Women of color especially face some of the biggest hurdles in the industry. In 2022, BIPOC women made up less than 10% of the STEM U.S. workforce.

Athina Kanioura , Ph.D., chief strategy and transformation officer at PepsiCo.
Athina Kanioura, Ph.D., chief strategy and transformation officer at PepsiCo.

To close this gap, we need to do a better job of giving women the opportunity to lead so they can bring others along with them. There needs to be a shift and I’m calling on all leaders to take action.

In December, the United Nations announced a new theme for 2023 “DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality.” Achieving gender equality cannot be done overnight, but it starts at the top and we have a responsibility to be agents of change.

Here are three ways leaders within an organization can help the next generation of STEM talent:

Promote positive and diverse role models

To encourage more women to pursue STEM careers, we need to usher more women into STEM leadership positions. Women are more likely to major in STEM if they are assigned a female professor. The more women see female leaders, the more likely they are to apply for leadership roles and advocate for themselves.

Unconscious bias still exists, and there are still some leaders who believe that men have a greater chance of succeeding than women with the same qualifications. As leaders, we have the responsibility to remove unconscious biases in our hiring and talent decisions, especially in STEM roles. I’m proud to share that my leadership team consists of almost 50% women and I’m not stopping there.

Encourage women to embrace their whole selves at work and at home

We shouldn’t expect women to hide their personal lives in order to rise to leadership positions. When we embrace our authentic selves we can get the support we need to thrive at work, which unlocks our full potential.

To foster an inclusive workplace, try holding “Ask Me Anything” sessions where leaders are open to addressing topics ranging from business challenges to career development to world issues.These AMA sessions foster authenticity throughout all levels of an organization.

Provide educational resources and mentorship programs

PepsiCo partnered with Million Women Mentors, a program that leverages mentorship to inspire and develop women in STEM. If we want to make an impact we need to provide educational resources to help the next generation thrive. Two additional options to consider are Girls Who Code and STEM Careers Coalition.

Globally, there is still a lot of work to be done, but we are on the right path. We must help other women discover the many career options available in STEM. As a mother and mentor, I’m committed to empowering more women and helping them reach their full potential. As we move forward, I envision every woman having an equal voice in the workplace.

Athina Kanioura, Ph.D., is the chief strategy and transformation officer for PepsiCo, and oversees the company’s end-to-end digitization.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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