Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

UD’s Lerner College is getting serious about getting more women in STEM

The business school held two high-level summits this spring, and is planning to launch up to six new initiatives in the fall.
It’s no secret that getting college women to major in STEM (science, technology, engineering and hath) fields is a challenge at the national level.

At the University of Delaware’s Lerner College of Business and Economics, leaders have found that women and men major in marketing and accounting, but their finance and economics majors have been consistently dominated by male students. And retention rates of women in those male-dominated majors haven’t been so hot either, said Dana Raftas, Lerner’s director of development.
To remedy the situation, Lerner recently held two women’s business summits in Newark, Del., and New York City. The events were small but impactful: Just 20 female Lerner alums were handpicked to participate at each summit, and they were all C-suite or managing directors at large firms.

Lerner folks picked their brains about the challenges of working in male-dominated STEM fields (in this case, mostly concerning the “M” in STEM for finance-related industries), the rewards of such work, why they think young women aren’t studying STEM and ways to attract and help young women in their STEM studies.
As a result, Lerner will be initiating the following efforts:

  1. A mentoring sub-program within Lerner’s already-existing program that matches top-notch female Lerner grads with female students, to be launched this fall. UD officials are searching now for mentors. “We usually have more female students sign up than mentors,” Raftas said.
  2. Two to four bus trips per semester, also starting in the fall, for young women to visit places where successful female Lerner grads work (for instance, a trip to a Wall Street firm).
  3. A women’s leadership certificate program within the college, to be launched next spring.
  4. The possible assembly of a council or network of alumnae to host panel discussions and connect students to professionals and industries. That’ll be discussed more this summer, Raftas said.
  5. Fleshing out a way to reach local high school girls about STEM subjects.
  6. Faculty research on these methods and how they affect Lerner’s numbers in the future.

Raftas was surprised when alumnae at both summits, without any prompting, brought up the topic of mentorships versus sponsorships. The distinction, she said, is that mentorships are about one-on-one relationships where conversations tend to get personal over coffee meetings. Sponsorships, meanwhile, involve people who champion you behind the scenes in boardroom meetings because they want to see you get ahead. The women said both roles are equally important, and that often their best sponsors have been men, while they generally prefer women as mentors.
Tanya Bakalov, a cofounder of SevOne, attended the New York meeting and said she’s excited about the potential of the initiatives.
“It was interesting for me to learn that in the finance and economic department, there’s an 80/20 ratio of [men to women] in the graduating class of 2019,” she said . “I thought we had gotten past that, but we have not. And for them to hear role models and to be able to get some feedback and just hear stories of other women … that’s important.”
She said she plans to be involved in Lerner’s efforts to help break STEM stereotypes with girls and young women.
Deborah Blanchard, Lerner’s communications and marketing manager, said the school’s efforts are part of a wider effort at UD to help get women involved with — and enthusiastic about — studies in STEM subjects.
“I think it’s just the very beginning,” Blanchard said, “of a very longterm and really intense focus in terms of resources used to address this issue.”

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