THE BLOG

Women Can Solve the STEM Shortage

07/09/2013 01:28 pm ET | Updated Sep 08, 2013

During the past couple of months, millions of young people across the country graduated college with new degrees preparing them to enter the workforce. But sadly, with the unemployment rate still above seven percent, the U.S. job market isn't what it used to be. In fact, last year half of young college graduateswere unemployed or underemployed.

Women face even more unfavorable odds. Even with the start of the economic recovery, many women face prolonged job searches. For over 40 percent of unemployed women, it can take more than six months to find a new job.

At the same time, there is an abundance of jobs waiting for workers with skills in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM fields. For example, there are roughly 3.3 million technology jobs open in the U.S., but half of employers report that they cannot find qualified candidates to fill them. As the technical sector continues to expand in the United States, we will see more and more jobs come available in these fields. In fact, the Department of Commerce predicts that STEM job openings will grow 17 percent by 2018, a much faster rate than many other careers.

These high-paying jobs would not go unfilled if more women received degrees in STEM-related fields. According to the Department of Education, only 31 percent of the degrees and certificates in STEM fields in 2008-2009 were earned by women. In general, women comprise half of the available workforce. If female graduates entered STEM fields in the same numbers as their male counterparts, the STEM shortage would no longer exist!

These fields represent the jobs of the future and are critical to our nation's economy and global competitiveness. Whether it's computer programming, device manufacturing or software development, these industries are growing and we need to ensure that women's careers grow with them.

As a woman in the unabashedly male-dominated technology industry, encouraging more women to get involved in STEM fields is important to me for two primary reasons. First, I've seen first-hand just how hard it is to fill high-skilled jobs with qualified individuals. Second, women bring valuable perspectives to every situation. Research shows that heterogeneity within a company yields better decision-making, and diverse technical teams build better products and solve problems more efficiently. This dynamic not only fosters a better working environment, but it also improves a company's bottom line.

At Neustar, we understand the importance of encouraging the next generation of women to pursue careers in technical fields, and our employees are involved in several programs to do just that. For example, we partnered with EverFi, a Washington, D.C.-based digital education start-up, and local school districts to develop a program to help young students feel comfortable with technology.

This program, called My Digital Life, is an in-school, online, digital literacy program designed for 8th and 9th graders, and aims to teach students how to use technology tools responsibly. In the process, we hope they begin to see the power of technology and become interested in pursuing technology-related careers. In just one year, My Digital Life has reached more than 27,000 students in 250 schools. My hope is that programs like this will spark the interest in a child to go on to become a scientist, engineer or computer programmer.

While generating an interest in STEM subjects must start at an early age, we also support programs for older students who are looking to further their STEM education with real-world experience. Neustar sponsors Year Up, an intensive training program that provides low-income adults, between the ages of 18 and 24, with a combination of hands-on skill development, college credits and corporate internships in technology-focused disciplines. Additionally, we work with the Anita Borg Institute (ABI), which specifically supports and promotes women in technology. Our participation in ABI's annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference helps to connect attendees, most of whom are students actively looking for jobs, with our female technology leaders and hiring managers at Neustar.

I am obviously not alone in advocating for improved STEM education. President Obama recently set a goal to increase STEM graduates to one million over the next decade.I am encouraged by this ambitious target, but I hope others in the business community also will invest in programs to encourage our young women to enter these critical fields. The continued success of our industry -- as well as the future of our nation -- depends on it.