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The Top Six Reasons Women Contemplate Leaving Their STEM Careers

Updated: May 8, 2023

Research from the US shows that while 41% of highly qualified scientists, engineers and technologists at the lower levels of corporations are women, 52% of these women will quit their private sector jobs (around the age of 30-35).


That's wild.


I was part of that statistic. I left my career as a professional geoscientist at the age of 36. I had no idea if I would ever come back (spoiler alert: I did).


In their research paper titled The Athena Factor: Reversing the brain drain in Science, Engineering, and Technology, Hewlett et. al found 5 major "antigens" contributing to the loss of women from the private sector at this specific time of their lives.


1.Difference in Cultures: Women may feel marginalized by “hostile macho cultures”, which are often viewed as exclusionary and an extension of the locker room.


Based on this difference in culture and/or bias, women often experience a gender credibility gap, where their expertise and authority are often ignored or undermined.


2.Isolation: Women in these fields are often the sole woman on a team or at a site. This makes it difficult to find support or sponsorship. Without buddies to support them or bring them into the conversations they have a lower ability to problem-solve complex projects, learn and grow past adverse situations, and they are less likely to be involved in business decisions.


3.Systems of risk and reward: The “diving catch” and “firefighting” (emergency) culture of companies disadvantage women, who tend to manage home and child-care, and be more risk averse because of their lack of support and cultural upbringing. Without that social support from their peers, they feel they could go from “hero to zero” in a heartbeat.

4.Extreme work pressures: STEM jobs are usually time intensive and can take place in extreme working environments.


5.Mysterious career paths: As a result of the above, women find it hard to gain an understanding of the way forward. 40% feel stalled or stuck in their careers.


These factors create the perfect storm of career hurdles right when family pressures intensify.


As a coach, I have another primary reason women quit their careers.


6. They haven't yet learned how to manage their mind.


I am NOT disputing the above circumstances don't exist.


I am NOT saying unfair biases and privileges don't exist.


They very much do.


AND, we get to choose what we think about those things.


We can make them a problem. Or we can choose to think of them differently.


We can wait for the system to change. For the biases to change. For human nature to change.


Or we can get to work changing our own inner state.


We can accept the status quo.


Or we can imagine a new way of doing things.


Change happens on various scales. I like to think of it like a funnel, with systemic transformation representing the broadest part of the funnel at the top, and individual transformation the narrowest part of the funnel at the bottom.


The Change Funnel: Systemic transformation takes time and is not within our full control. Individual transformation can happen quickly, and is fully within our control.
The Change Funnel: Systemic transformation takes time and is not within our full control. Individual transformation can happen quickly, and is fully within our control.

What a lot of us do is give our power, and responsibility, away to someone else.


The government should change it.


The organizations should change it.


The companies should change it.


That's not wrong.


It's just not useful. It's not efficient.


It makes us think we're powerless.


When people feel powerless they either run and hide, freeze, or turn and fight.


Those states of being are not useful to create long lasting positive change where diversity is not only celebrated, but a necessary part of the complex problem-solving process.


When we focus on taking responsibility for what we can control, we create change from the bottom of the funnel up.


That's where a coach comes in.


A coach helps you separate the facts from your story, gain awareness over your thoughts, the emotional state that's creating, the behaviours that come from that state, and the results those behaviours are producing.


A coach helps you to clarify what you DO want, and how you'll need to change your thinking to achieve those goals.


A coach helps you process your emotions and create new powerful emotional states.


A coach helps you identify the skills you need to build to get where you want to go.


A coach helps you see a different perspective and different possibilities that are 100% available to you, but are hard to find without guidance around your old way of thinking.


A coach helps you feel better, more confident, more grounded, more empowered, without requiring the world to change first.


A coach creates accountability, support, problem-solving and consistent focus required to create lasting change.


You want to do this work.


It will change the way you see everything.


It will change the way you feel.


It will change the projects you go for.


It will change the people you talk to.


It will change the feedback you seek.


It will change the possibilities you see for yourself.


Sign up for a free clarity and consult session below. I'll help you figure out exactly what the problem is, gain clarity on what you want, and create an action plan for getting there.





p.s., My client recently said "I just submitted four proposals, three of which I was the only one involved. That's not common in my company. I was also just accepted to present at a conference. I'm going there to not only present, but take a short course in a niche I want to specialize in. I'm taking charge of my own destiny. "


p.s.s., The Athena Factor study was named in honour of Athena, who was the Greek goddess of heroic endeavor, associated with wisdom, warfare and handicraft. She was the patron and protectress of various cities across Greece. In art, she's generally depicted wearing a helmet and holding a spear. Not unlike the hard hats many of us wear in the field today.








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