Giving Compass' Take:
- David Cantor explains that few programs are successfully connecting women to STEM careers, even as employers search for soft skills that women tend to perform well in.
- How can funders help to develop more robust and effective STEM pipelines for women?
- Learn about advancing women in STEM.
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It seems like an obvious example of supply and demand.
For years, business leaders have lamented a shortage of workers with abilities that are still beyond the reach of the smartest machine, like improvising solutions to unanticipated problems and boosting teamwork and morale.
Women outperform men in many of the underlying skills that lead to job success — skills commonly referred to as noncognitive because, like emotional IQ, creativity, and conscientiousness, they’re not clearly predicted by test results.
The demand for soft skills, as they’re also known, was borne out in a 2017 Harvard study that found that “social skill-intensive occupations” — including teaching and some computer science and health care jobs — had increased by 12 percent since 1980 and enjoyed higher wage growth. Positions that demanded lots of brain power but little social aptitude had declined.
The huge rise over the past century in the number and percentage of women who work in the U.S., highlighted by more recent nationwide efforts to steer young females toward traditionally male-dominated STEM careers, would appear to give women at least an equal shot at great jobs.
But it hasn’t turned out that way — at least not yet.
Advocates and researchers say persistent gender stereotypes keep many women from seriously considering these positions and leave insufficient support for the few who do. Childbearing and motherhood come with opportunity and wage penalties and may divert women who are in science and engineering careers to lower-paying but more flexible middle-skills health care jobs (like lab technician or pharmacist) — a sector that is now 70 percent female.
The push for soft skills often fails to take into account these disadvantages, experts warn.
“The fact that a curriculum may be incorporating soft skills — and despite what we hear employers say about soft skills all the time — that hasn’t moved the needle,” said Lois Joy, associate research director at Jobs for the Future, a nationwide workforce organization. She said women typically lack established career pathways, including mentoring and professional networks, that often help men succeed.
“It doesn’t matter how well girls are communicating if they’re not communicating to the right people,” she said.
Read the full article about women, soft skills, and STEM careers by David Cantor at The 74.