Women now have more opportunities than at any other time to follow their chosen career goals and passions. And while there has been a growing interest over the last decade for women to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), inequality persists.
Globally, it is estimated that only 20% of engineering graduates are women.
A 2021 study revealed that women only make up 27% of the STEM workforce, meaning women are wildly underrepresented. The lack of representation spans across all levels, but women are particularly underrepresented in leadership: in technology, women comprise about 24% of leadership roles, and in infrastructure it is as low as 16%.
The figures suggest the needle is struggling to shift, even with a drive to increase understanding and opportunities in the field.
So while there has been a closing of the gender gap in many professions, it is still increasingly difficult to escape that divide when it comes to roles in the STEM field.
Many point to unconscious bias, a lack of role models a work-life balance and a lack of professional sisterhood in business life as men have as contributing factors. Another reason cited includes the masculine stereotypes which can discourage women from pursuing careers in STEM.
However, there is an increasing need for STEM-related roles as we move forward in the 21st century.
One woman who wants to see a shift in gender representation in STEM fields is Ebru Özdemir. As Chairwoman at Limak Holding, an engineering company from Türkiye, she ensures her company has multiple opportunities for females in STEM-related careers.
“The so-called fourth industrial revolution is characterized by an extraordinary technology and digital transition,” says Özdemir.
“While this is a time of great opportunity and excitement for the future, we must ensure that we are moving forward in an integrated and inclusive way. Women must be at the forefront of this revolution, and an emphasis on equality is necessary for the success of this revolution.
‘I believe that women cannot be what they cannot see, so we need to ensure there is a network of support, both professionally and personally, for them to achieve their goals.”
Özdemir graduated from TED Ankara College in 1991 and completed her BS degree in Civil Engineering at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Türkiye. She also holds an MBA in International Business and Finance from Fordham University.
As a female engineer, she was lucky to be raised in a family of engineers, with her mother being her role model in her professional life.
“My mother, an engineer in 1970s Türkiye, led by example,” says Özdemir. During a time when the words ‘women’ and ‘engineering’ were rarely paired, my mother persistently pursued a career within a field dominated by men.”
Following in her mother’s footsteps, she grew up in an environment where she was encouraged to pursue her dreams: “I have never once thought that I was incapable of becoming an engineer due to the fact that I am a woman. Such privileges are not afforded to all, and it is for this reason that I relentlessly pursue and advocate for women in engineering.”
With many of its projects, Limak Holding has been able to employ women in STEM in its business endeavours. Under Özdemir’s leadership, the company has placed gender equality at the core of its operations and received the UNDP Gender Seal for the Private Sector in 2022, with Limak Investments, one of the group’s companies, becoming the first private sector company in Türkiye and in the larger region to receive this recognition with a Golden Category Award.
In June, the company began the reconstruction of the new Spotify Camp Nou, FC Barcelona’s stadium. In 2022, it also completed the 1915 Çanakkale Bridge, the world’s longest mid-span suspension bridge, and the Yusufeli Dam, Türkiye’s highest and world’s fifth-highest dam. Limak is also well-known for its efforts to promote women in STEM-related fields in Türkiye and the wider region.
“I want to present women with role models they can look up to for inspiration,” says Özdemir.
“They also need all the tools to succeed in their chosen endeavours. Women are no less capable than men in STEM, but external factors lead to women being excluded and a reinforced gender gap.”
Özdemir believes that as the role of technology in the global economy increases, future job opportunities will be dominated by STEM industries as the need for engineering and computer science-based positions with good compensation rates increases: “Progress on women in STEM thus far has been slow and has not achieved nearly enough. Now is the chance for women to capitalize on this technological revolution and take advantage of the new financial and career opportunities. And employers in STEM businesses should strive to attract and retain women to increase diversity,” she says.
Research supports her comments. Industries involving engineering, science, mathematics and technology are projected to foster the fastest growth and highest-paid jobs of the future. Even now, a typical STEM worker already earns over double the amount of a non-STEM worker, and this trend is only set to continue.
To give women engineers a level playing field, Özdemir founded Global Engineer Girls (GEG), a philanthropic initiative aimed at inspiring the next generation of female engineers. Based on the success of its initial brainchild, the Engineer Girls of Türkiye (EGT) project, Özdemir is now ready to share her experience and know-how in different geographies. Through GEG, women and girls are educated, empowered, and encouraged to explore STEM careers through the organization. Recently, Kosovo and North Macedonia were added to the list of four countries where the initiative operates.
“GEG offers other women and girls essential role models to demonstrate that STEM subjects are inclusive and attainable,” says Özdemir.
“The world needs greater commitment and action on gender equality targets. Initiatives like GEG are conducting ground-breaking work, but these initiatives cannot change the world alone,” she adds.
“We must invest in and promote gender equality in business, government, legislation and culture for a sustainable, inclusive and future-proof economy. And by introducing the diversity of thought and experience, we can have a critical impact on innovation, creativity, good decision-making and ultimately profitability.”