To close the gender gap in STEM, we have to close the visibility gap

Women working within STEM are hiding in plain sight. One way to overcome this would be to spotlight examples of actual women succeeding in STEM, which could inspire other young women.

By Kristin Kagetsu, Founder & CEO of Saathi Pads and 2018 CWI fellow

Gender inequality in the workplace is nothing new. When women entered the workforce during World War II, it was out of necessity. During the feminist movement of the 1960s, women entered the workforce by choice. However, their options were quite limited. Most of them simply became secretaries, nurses, babysitters, or teachers.

Girls and women are systematically turned away from science and math throughout their education, limiting their training and options to go into these fields as adults. Women make up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college. The gender gaps are particularly high in some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs of the future, like computer science and engineering. Experts are warning that even those gains could be lost due to the work-from-home (WFH) dynamic caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, women have made great strides and now work in all fields, but, the hard sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics are still dominated by men.

All these statistics take me back to my school days. When I was in 5th grade, I got really excited about robotics and followed my passion till 12th grade. Coming from an all-girls school, we were always taught that girls could be anything they wanted to be, but there was still a lack of awareness about engineering. Throughout my school years, I advocated for girls to explore engineering as a career option and tried to find examples and role models to show that being an engineer meant that they could do so many interesting things from robotics, to autonomous vehicle design, to medical devices, to designing products that would help people in communities across the world. There were very few women in STEM to look up to as role models but at least there were a few teachers who supported us and, thanks to them, we were able to participate and compete at the national level as one of the few all-girls teams in the country.

Even in my major (mechanical engineering) in college, there were only a handful of women though the entire grade was almost a 50/50 split. It’s not just about the numbers because I felt that the college environment as a whole was very supportive and diverse. But the male-dominated work culture which I experienced at one of my internships and at my first job were intimidating and I felt it was important to find others such as peers or mentors who could help navigate those situations.

I would encourage young women to be fearless and confident. Women should aim to look past their fears of entering a male-dominated field and instead focus on making their own mark even if that means asking for help and guidance. You don’t have to do it alone. The lack of visible female role models continues to be a major problem. In my opinion though, the real problem is that the women working within STEM are hiding in plain sight. One way to overcome this would be to spotlight examples of actual women succeeding in STEM, which could inspire other young women by giving them real-world examples to model themselves after.

In order to close these gaps, we have to close the visibility gap.

The Cartier Women’s Initiative and Hello Tomorrow have joined hands to launch the Science & Technology Pioneer Award, which aims to bring more visibility to women role models in STEM. This new award is especially dedicated to recognizing women impact entrepreneurs at the forefront of scientific and technological innovation.

The Cartier Women’s Initiative has a history of recognizing women entrepreneurs for the last 14 years and they believe women can be extraordinary change agents by leveraging business as an important force for good. Hello Tomorrow is unlocking the potential of deep tech to solve the toughest global challenges for the last 9 years. They believe in the need for radical transformation in the way we eat, move, power and run our industries. 

My company Saathi is proud to have been recognized by both platforms thanks to its powerful blend of technology in new and alternative materials and its focus on the intersection of women's health and sustainability.

In this new program, the Cartier Women’s Initiative and Hello Tomorrow strive to highlight the social and environmental impact created by fellows and bridge connections between women impact entrepreneurs and their supporters.

The fellowship program is not just about financial support. It is an amazing peer network of other women founders around the world. Also there’s a bootcamp session where they help in developing a strategic financial mind-set, provide workshops on enhancing one’s leadership presence and media training. One of the most interesting benefits is a scholarship to attend the one-week INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Program (ISEP). This is a great way to meet 30+ like-minded individuals hailing from around the world and coming from a corporate, startup or academic background. They are all passionate about social impact and making a difference in the world.

The call for applications for the 2021 edition of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Science & Technology Pioneer Award is now open, and are currently accepting applications up until 2PM CEST on July 31, 2020. Apply Now!




Kristin Kagetsu is an MIT graduate engineer and is one of the co-founders and CEO of Saathi. She is passionate about women health, sustainability and women leadership. She was an MIT DLab ScaleUps Fellow, Asia Society Young Leader, TEDx speaker, Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia Fellow, Cartier Women’s Initiative Finalist, and recognized by the Department of MSME. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.