The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “Why is a background in STEM important for shaping female leaders?” is written by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.
Looking at 2017, it’s clear that technology will underpin future success for a variety of industries. So for girls aspiring to be women leaders, STEM education is critical. Here’s why:
Technology is the future
Just look at Starbucks (SBUX). Howard Schultz shocked a lot of people when he announced last month that he was stepping down as CEO. Schultz has been the iconic leader of Starbucks, single-handedly disrupting coffee drinking all over the world by making it a lifestyle experience. As a nod to the future of business—and to Starbucks’ strategy—Schultz’s chosen successor Kevin Johnson is a technology expert. Johnson has more than three decades of experience working for tech giants like Microsoft (MSFT), IBM (IBM), and Juniper Networks. Schultz himself said Johnson is better equipped to scale and manage the technology innovation that is key to the company’s next stage of development.
Rapid adopters of new technologies will have a competitive advantage
Leaders today need to leverage technology and digital channels. Companies from all walks of life are going through a business model shift as digitization changes one industry after another. Data insights, predictive analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and robotics will be part of each of our personal and business lives in the future. Rapid adopters of these technological trends will gain a competitive edge; those who are slow to leverage technologies will risk being left behind or going out of business.
STEM encourages critical thinking and problem solving, which is critical to business success
Just working hard is not going to make you a great leader. To win in today’s world, leaders also need to think differently. McKinsey had a great analogy when comparing top executives to commercial air pilots who are suddenly thrown into the cockpit of fighter jets. They can’t survive with their usual skills, but instead need to pivot to the demands of combat. As we look to the future, leaders need to be at ease with digitization, and must continuously examine which new technology platforms can become important business drivers. Success in STEM subjects often requires curiosity and a constant thirst to experiment, which will be key as businesses seek to pioneer solutions that meet evolving customer needs, and get ahead of market transitions.
There is magic in STEM that girls need to experience
The focus on STEM education for girls in schools is much discussed—but the imperative to make progress in sparking and maintaining a passion for the creative potential, the magic, and beauty of science and math must take on greater urgency than ever before. It is estimated that the number of women in the U.S. computing workforce will decline from 24% to 22% by 2025, according to new research from Accenture and Girls Who Code, unless there is a concerted effort to reach girls early in their educational experiences. Programs and curricula that encourage girls to pursue a computer science education will be key to increasing the number of women in the top ranks of business and to expanding the overall number of women in computing.