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The STEM Connection

What do these women have in common? They are leaders in their field. They have created businesses that are wildly successful. And their background is in STEM.

Gerianne Dipiano, the CEO of FemmePharma Global Healthcare Inc., has a doctorate in Science. Bernice Dapaah, CEO of the Ghana Bamboo Bike Initiative, has a background in engineering and design. Nina Ahmad, who is Philadelphia’s Deputy Mayor of Community Engagement, has her Ph.D. in chemistry.

The STEM connection struck me while preparing for The African Bicycle Contribution Foundation (ABCF) – panel discussion of "Why Women Need A Seat at The Table"– looking for ways in which to empower women in business and entrepreneurship. Although the lively, informative conversation never touched on STEM, it can’t be a coincidence that all three women are STEM educated.

I first noticed the STEM-Leadership-Women connection several years ago when preparing to give a keynote speech to the Philadelphia Women in Tech Conference. When I looked at the top four companies led by women, once again, all four women had a background in science, technology, engineering, and or math.

CEO Mary Barra of GM, is an electrical engineer. CEO Ginni Rometty of IBM, has a computer science, and electrical engineering background. Indra Noryi, CEO of Pepsi, is educated in physics, chemistry, and math. And Hewlett-Packard CEO, Meg Whitman’s major was economics, but she started college as pre-med.

If I had gone beyond the top four, the STEM connection would have likely continued. No doubt there are numerous reasons for the connection. Certainly the companies I mentioned are science and technology related. But it has to go deeper than that. Moreover, look at the example of Dr. Nina Ahmad – although she is science trained, her job as Deputy Mayor, and her previous positions are around social activism and engagement. The point is, STEM is a great foundation for among other things, leadership and power—a seat at the table!

Research has long told us that a great way to get more women in the STEM pipeline is to have role models and mentors. I can’t think of better examples of leadership successes than the women named here. We need to know their stories, how they got there, and how to make sure we are doing all we can to help them open the doors for all the women who will come after.

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