Can the world’s workforce support the growing global digital economy? Not yet, according to the Smithsonian Science Education Center. The Center reports that 78% of high school graduates do not meet the readiness benchmarks for one or more college courses in mathematics, science, reading, or English. The Center sees the impact from this lack of preparedness resulting in an estimated 2.4 million science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs being unfulfilled as of 2018. [i]
As companies across the U.S. recognize National STEM Day, the critical demand for a STEM-educated workforce continues to increase. Over the last decade, the U. S. Department of Commerce reported STEM positions increased by 17%, while other occupations grew at 9.8%. Between 2018 and 2028, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates STEM jobs continuing to grow by nearly 9%.[ii]
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
STEM education is different from traditional science and math education in that it is a blended learning environment that shows students how the scientific method can be applied to everyday life. It teaches students computational thinking and focuses on the real world applications of problem solving, starting in elementary school. However, research has shown that by high school, there is a gender gap. Girls who perform on par or better than boys, suddenly stop taking more advanced STEM courses and tests as they approach college. The gap even widens the longer girls are in school and is often compounded by race and class. Prevailing wisdom around what could close the gap points toward the significant role teachers play in influencing or dispelling female stereotypes when it comes to STEM education.
We’ve asked Yun Freund, Equinix’s vice president of engineering and winner of Silicon Valley Business Journal’s 2019 Women of Influence award, to talk about how she sees STEM education impacting today’s and tomorrow’s high-tech workforce.[iii]
Who were your influencers and motivators that inspired you to take a technology career path?
When I was 5 years old, my father started teaching me math. From him giving me a solid foundation from which to build my skills, I was able to master third grade math before I entered first grade. Then throughout my education, before going to Peking University in China to study computer science, I was fortunate enough to have very supportive teachers who taught STEM. That positive influence by parents and teachers throughout a child’s education is critical to building an interest in STEM opportunities as a career.
Why do you feel STEM education for young children is important for the global digital economy?
We have to build the next generation pipeline for our future digital work force and STEM is a vital part of making that happen. The best time to build that mindset and spark the interest in future generations is during their early education development.
Why is a STEM education significant for girls today?
Unconscious generational biases exist that condition girls to think they are only fitted for certain things and they should not focus on STEM. We have to break through that barrier in girls’ early childhood so they can take advantage of all that STEM careers have to offer them. Industry studies actually show girls being equal to boys in math and science achievements, however, according to a study by the National Science Foundation, fewer than 20% of undergraduate degrees in computer sciences or engineering are earned by women. This small percentage of women getting technical degrees has resulted in only 29% of the science and engineering workforce being represented by women today. And when looking at lower income and minority populations, the numbers of both men and women in STEM occupations drops.
How do you think this gap can be closed?
One of the most important factors that limits certain populations and countries in staying ahead of the STEM curve is the lack of early education in those areas. We need to focus more on early childhood STEM introduction and groom kids’ interest at younger ages. Another area we need to focus on is STEM education in young girls and minority groups. This will also help bridge the gap in the lack of diversity in candidates pools for the future STEM workforce.
How have you seen STEM’s impact on today’s job candidates in the high tech industry?
STEM education is critical on today’s job candidates in the high tech industry. STEM education creates critical thinkers, increases science literacy and enables the next generation of innovators.
How is Equinix supporting STEM and other gender-parity programs?
Our commitment starts with our top leadership. When Charles Meyers became Equinix’s CEO in 2018, he made diversity an integral part of our business strategy and a priority to achieve gender balance within our company. He emphasized that our company values revolve around ensuring that every employee can confidently say, “I’m safe, I belong and I matter.”
Equinix has many programs to support STEM. Every year we hire STEM interns and fresh graduates from top universities and we teach them how to do software development in real world scenarios. We also teach them how to apply their school STEM knowledge to solve real customer problems.
Equinix also supports the Paradigm for Parity Coalition, which helps business leaders close the gender gap in their companies’ leadership. Recently, I nominated one of my engineering leaders, Dipti Srivastava, for the Paradigm Women on the Rise award, and she won.[iv]
We established a companywide Allies Council, comprised of global senior leaders at Equinix that advises our executives on equality practices. Based on their recommendations and the executive team’s commitment, we launched a cross-functional Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging team, which sponsors events to promote diversity in technology and partner with organizations that connect us with diverse candidates.
The Equinix Women Leaders Network (EWLN) helps to promote, connect and empower women at Equinix. Co-founded in 2011 by our Chief Human Resources Officer/Chief Legal Officer/General Counsel and Secretary of Equinix, Brandi Galvin Morandi, along with Cathryn Arnell and Janet Ladd, the EWLN currently has over 1,700 members worldwide. EWLN sponsors various STEM related programs, such as Technology Leader Fireside Chats, that bring in strong technology leaders as our speakers for the EWLN.
Equinix also sponsors various Impact Program initiatives, which is led by Sujata Narayan, Equinix Director of Corporate Citizenship, and includes World Pulse for women’s digital inclusion and the Shadhika program. Shadhika provides women at Equinix the opportunity to connect with young women in India through a combination of helping them practice their English as pen-pals and sponsoring their English language education. Eventually, these Indian women have the opportunity to learn STEM.
Equinix really focuses on diversity, inclusion and belonging. Its leaders are always thinking about how to bring diverse voices into their decision making. In the technology-centric product organization, we believe diversity in technology mindshare fosters innovation.
How are members of your leadership team supporting STEM?
Our Chief Product Officer, Sara Baack, has been very active in supporting STEM and Women in Tech communities. She is a frequent speaker at EWLN events, and was selected as one of the Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Tech by the National Diversity Council.
Milind Wagle, our Chief Information Office, is the father of a teenage, STEM-oriented daughter and is committed to closing the gender gap in tech for women today and for his daughter’s generation. Along with Sara Baack, he sponsors a “Belonging in Technology” initiative for our technology teams with the objective of driving inclusion and belonging across our global technology workforce. Last year, Milind nominated a member of his IT executive leadership team, Rosh Dawes, for the Future CIO of the Year by the Silicon Valley Women in IT Awards, which she was awarded.
I have also been very activein advocating STEM for young girls. In my previous role at GE Digital, I was the executive sponsor for Girls Who Code (GWC) programs and worked with local middle schools, as well as sponsored girls at young ages over the summer. I am also partnering with our Talent Acquisition team to start a Girls Who Code (GWC) program here at Equinix and have been sponsoring Geek Girl Dinner in Bay Area and technology meet ups, etc.
How do you see STEM preparing the world’s workforce to contribute to the global digital economy?
We need to do more. The U.S. official job report indicates that there are a shortage of job skills related to STEM. STEM jobs have been continuously growing at higher rates than other occupations and yet a foundational workforce is not there to support this growth. In order to meet the demand, building that workforce pipeline through STEM education for men and women, at all economic levels all over the world is increasingly important for the world’s economy.
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[ii] Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupations include computer and mathematical, architecture and engineering, and life and physical science occupations, as well as managerial and postsecondary teaching occupations related to these functional areas and sales occupations requiring scientific or technical knowledge at the postsecondary level. https://www.bls.gov/oes/topics.htm#stem