As many women enter the workforce, there’s a growing demand for women to be at the top of their field.
But there are still barriers to being an effective leader.
One such barrier is the shortage of qualified women in certain STEM fields.
And according to a recent survey by CareerBuilder, women still lag behind men in every key STEM field.
One of those barriers is the skill tree.
Many women have trouble connecting with the technical skills they need to get ahead.
“Many women do not realize that they are missing out on a large chunk of the job market,” says Erin McLeod, vice president of CareerBuilder’s career services and information.
In fact, a large majority of respondents say they are not qualified for a position because they have no technical knowledge.
But what’s behind the disconnect?
The lack of knowledge about what skills women need in order to succeed in these fields can make it difficult for women, says McLeod.
For example, women who have an engineering background may need more in-depth knowledge of the building of a computer system, she says.
“Women who don’t have the skill set needed for this are going to struggle in the job search,” she says, “so they are going find the skills they can only use on the computer system.”
The skills shortage is a huge one for women in STEM fields, as many women have a high school degree or less.
For the most part, women don’t even have access to computer science degrees, according to CareerBuilder.
The lack, and lack of access, of women in these disciplines, combined with the lack of female leaders in those fields can result in a significant gap between the skills needed for advancement and the skills women actually possess, says Amy Smith, director of the Women in Science Program at The Brookings Institution.
“If women can’t be successful in the fields that they do hold, then they don’t get the jobs they are hoping for,” Smith says.
There are ways to bridge the gap.
For instance, there are some things women can do to get the most out of their careers.
In particular, women with technical skills can be good managers and leaders, says Smith.
They also need to be able to communicate effectively with men, especially those in technical fields, says Sarah Regan, director and CEO of CareerPaths, a career coaching and development company.
But women who lack these skills can still excel in these STEM fields if they get help from a skilled, mentored and professional support network, says Regan.
Women also have to take responsibility for their own career goals.
This is particularly true for women who are interested in careers in engineering, social work, business, or finance, which require a lot of leadership skills, says Chris Wiens, founder of The Career Builder Institute, a company that provides career advice and career services.
Women in these industries, like in the STEM fields where women are the majority, often have a difficult time managing their own careers, says Wiens.
“They need a lot more than a mentor, or a mentor who has experience in their field,” he says.
The skills gap in STEM skills can also have an impact on how people find work in those sectors, says Lillian Stokes, a professor of human services at the University of Washington who specializes in human services and human resources.
If a woman doesn’t have a lot in the way of technical skills, “you’re going to get overlooked for a lot,” she explains.
She adds that the gender gap is especially acute in certain sectors of the economy, such as education and healthcare.
For those industries, a shortage of female talent could lead to more discrimination and lower wages.
In that sense, it is more important for employers to hire women, she adds.
But Stokes says it’s not enough for employers.
“You have to have a diversity of people.
You have to hire people who have diverse backgrounds and experience, and you have to pay them the same wages,” she notes.
“In my view, the answer to how we deal with the skills gap is to give people the tools and support they need, not just the training,” she concludes.
So what can employers do to improve the skills of their employees?
In many cases, the companies that are the most responsive to the needs of their workers can help them get more women into their fields.
“The biggest issue is not just a shortage,” says Smith, “but a lack of diversity,” she adds, meaning there needs to be a diversity in the workforce.
There is a need for more female leaders, as well, says Mary Schulte, senior vice president at CareerBuilder who has been researching the issue of women’s underrepresentation in STEM jobs.
There’s also a need to recruit more female candidates for these key STEM fields and to increase the number of women who apply to these positions, says Schultes.
“There’s a real need to increase that diversity, to increase