The tech industry is a Petri dish for bad behavior that must change. There is good reason to be concerned that white males overwhelmingly dominate the STEM fields that are shaping so much of our economy and culture.

Tech is a club that smart, ambitious, entrepreneurial people want to join. But as is the case at many exclusive clubs, the criteria for membership overlook entire categories of people—women, African Americans, Hispanics and many others.

Stirring the pot

So why the buzz about women in STEM careers?

  1. STEM is a skill set and a mindset our companies must have to be successful.
    What happens in STEM doesn’t just affect Silicon Valley. Every business depends on systems, technology, innovation and efficiency to be competitive. And to produce varied, innovative and creative ideas and products, it is important that these critical STEM positions be filled by diverse talent.

  2. STEM is about opportunity.
    Not too long ago, the best and brightest wanted to be investment bankers. No longer. Savile Row suits are out; hoodies are in. When I began my career, computers were a novelty. We didn’t have email, let alone Twitter. From a generational perspective, technology is in the DNA of younger workers. And STEM skills are foundational to future success.

  3. It’s about sector self-interest.
    Increasingly, there’s recognition in STEM fields that there’s a problem. Tech companies have shared their demographics, and the numbers aren’t very good. If these numbers are a proxy for STEM more broadly, where is the critical talent pool that employers will draw on to fill these positions?

  4. Reputations are at stake.
    Perhaps more urgently, we’re seeing a swell of popular opinion and backlash. Coming from financial services, I can tell you how this story ends: Class action lawsuits that cost real money. Scathing headlines that deplete good will and reputation. Senior leaders in depositions. Disenfranchised employees. Angry shareholders. Reluctant recruits. All amplified thanks to social media.

And perhaps more damaging: a generation of smart, ambitious, diverse talent who opt out of STEM careers.

On the frontlines

On the recruiting side, our companies are challenged to find women and minorities who are both qualified in a STEM discipline and interested in working and staying in a STEM field. Our focus for STEM education should be to build a diverse pipeline of people who are qualified.

On the retention side, the statistical and anecdotal evidence indicates that we’re fighting a battle of attrition. This is where culture comes in. People will only put up with so much for so long before it simply isn’t worth it. I’ve personally seen dozens of talented women and minorities leave high-paying, powerful positions on Wall Street for industries that were more receptive. In some cases, women opted out by leaving the workforce altogether and staying home to raise families.

Turning the tide

What will make change happen? Money is involved. It’s good business. Smart business leaders will understand that there’s a massive opportunity cost to disenfranchising more than half the population of potential customers. Can these companies conceive, develop and market products for women if there aren’t any women around to contribute? We think not. The companies that lead this charge will have a competitive advantage.

Ultimately, survival is at stake. Growth in STEM jobs is outpacing that of non-STEM jobs. At some point, there will be a shortage of qualified people to hire. The best and brightest will have their pick of opportunities—and will gravitate toward employers of choice.