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How companies can do more to boost women representation and participation in STEM industry

How companies can do more to boost women representation and participation in STEM industry


The Philippines is the only Asian country today that ranks in the top 10 globally for closing the STEM gender gap, where women take up 52% of science and technology research roles.

Women are finding it difficult to pursue their interest—and a career—in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). According to non-profit organisation Asia Foundation’s latest report, this could be attributed to gender biases, stereotypes, and a lack of female role models in the field.

Called Accelerating Women's Advancement in STEM: Emerging Lessons on Network Strategies and Approaches in Asia, the report also sheds light on what can be done to narrow gender gaps in STEM when it comes to private company, industry, and government levels.

What is the situation like today?

According to the report, the Philippines is the only Asian country today that ranks in the top 10 globally for closing the STEM gender gap. Women take up 52% of the roles of science and technology researchers in the Philippines.

In neighbouring nations like Singapore and Indonesia, only one-third of researchers are women. For other Asian countries like Japan and South Korea, only 15% and 18% of researchers, respectively, are women.

“In Asia and around the globe, these barriers are particularly daunting for those from under-resourced areas and from disadvantaged backgrounds, such as those with disabilities, from minority groups, or who are LGBTQ2+,” Asia Foundation highlights.

“These barriers are influenced by both formal and informal systemic and individual factors. Gendered social norms perpetuate the idea that men and boys are ‘naturally’ more adept at STEM and better suited for STEM careers than girls and women.

“Gender bias, stereotypes, and a lack of female role models decrease the likelihood that girls can confidently picture themselves pursuing and excelling in STEM careers.

“When such barriers persist over the course of women’s careers, they tend to diminish retention and advancement of women in STEM, particularly when they are coupled with gender-blind workplace or public policies, or with casual and systemic discrimination.”

What can be done about it?

That said, there are a myriad of ways to help more women enter and succeed in STEM careers, and advance STEM equity. In specific to private companies, Asia Foundation has offered a few recommendations that stakeholders can adopt and improve the situation.

#1 Study the organisation

For starters, Asia Foundation suggests stakeholders collect data and analyse the gender makeup of different areas of the organisation (both functional and technical), and at all levels of the company (from entry-level, to management, to senior leadership).

With the data at hand, stakeholders can use it to develop targeted diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies to improve gender equality in those parts of the organisation where women are underrepresented.

#2 Create more opportunities for engagement

Another way, stakeholders could develop various internal company schemes for employees to actively volunteer in projects and network activities beyond their usual line of work. If not, stakeholders could also work with STEM networks and training programmes to reskill redundant employees and to upskill current employees in relevant areas with a focus on women.

Externally, on the other hand, stakeholders can support the entrance of women into STEM careers through school-company partnership programmes, apprenticeships, work placement opportunities for students nearing graduation as well as recent graduates, for instance.

#3 Adopt flexible work arrangements

One thing the pandemic has revealed about work is that it is no longer confined within the boundaries of a typical workplace, or a typical 9-5 work schedule.

With more flexibility in mind, stakeholders could adopt more fluid work arrangements that have the potential to bring women and other underrepresented groups into STEM positions. It could be through a part-time home-based, or through a work routine that allows female employees to juggle work, caring, or household responsibilities altogether.

The report is done in collaboration with Zendesk. Access the full report here.


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