How do future leaders build the skills they need to be successful in their careers? A STEM education is a great place to start.
Traditionally, if high school students excel in STEM classes, they tend to choose a STEM degree in college and embark on a career in STEM after graduation. But the skills learned in a STEM curriculum — critical thinking, data analytics, decision-making — are valuable to those who go on to work in virtually every industry and across a gamut of roles.
In particular, a STEM education may be helpful for women taking on leadership roles. They learn how to ask questions, solve problems, work with diverse groups, and lead teams. These traits are encouraged and nurtured as part of STEM education, which is based on collaboration and hands-on lab work.
In STEM programs, students learn four key traits that all business leaders, regardless of their industry, need to know and implement every day. These include:
Be curious and ask questions.
STEM education encourages students to be skeptical and to look past the obvious answer. They learn to challenge and question any information presented to determine a better approach or solution. It’s this foundation that empowers STEM students to come up with new ways to push the limits of theories and ideas, leading to innovation.
Every challenge is just a problem to be solved.
Learning how to approach problems and derive answers methodically is part of every STEM education. Typically, there’s not only one right answer, but multiple answers that they can use in different ways. Students also learn that to solve a problem effectively, they need to look at it from different perspectives and try various problem-solving approaches before finding one that works.
Failure is part of the process.
STEM programs train students in an agile development process. They encourage them to try, fail, learn, and try again. Students learn that failure is just part of the process — it provides opportunities for useful learning experiences that can apply to any job function or future project. Being comfortable with failure is a key to success in business because we learn as much from failures as we do from successes. By training to look at problems in different ways, students learn that different people have different ways of solving problems, leading to better business processes and results.
There’s power in teamwork.
STEM programs put people together with different ways of thinking to solve complex problems — teaching students to listen to diverse perspectives. These programs provide the foundation for effective group work and collaboration by encouraging both independent thinking and problem solving as part of a larger team.
Curiosity, problem-solving, learning from failure, and teamwork aren’t just traits that engineers or scientists must possess — strong business leaders must have them as well.
Leadership education begins in grade school
When high school students consider whether to pursue STEM education, they often focus on whether they want to be in a STEM career after college. Many don’t consider how the skills they develop while in these programs will also become essential skills as a business leader.
The majority of high school students exploring academic options are unsure of their exact career path. It’s important to realize that this educational path doesn’t mean they’re destined to spend their careers in a lab or behind a computer all day solving math equations.
Rather, it means that when they earn their degree, they will have a unique set of skills that will position them for success whether they choose to enter the lab, the design studio, the consulting field, or the boardroom.
Careers that leverage STEM skill sets
Here are some examples business roles that draw on STEM skills:
- Product development: developing innovative products to solve real-world challenges
- Product marketing: bringing new product innovations to market
- Solution architects: designing solutions for customers
- Project management: organizing and running complex projects
- Business development: finding new routes to market or go-to-market plans
- Strategic planning: facilitating sessions to develop complex strategies in fast-moving markets
- Entrepreneurship: starting and running start-up businesses
Fostering future women leaders
The successful women leaders of tomorrow are in high school right now. And these young women need support and encouragement to explore STEM college degrees and careers.
Promoting STEM education early on will create a diverse pool of talent at all levels. And, it’ll also foster the growth of future leaders in fields who can leverage these strong traits in any career they choose — in or out of STEM. Both are great outcomes.
The topic of women in STEM hits close to home for me, personally. I took some time to speak to on the value of STEM education recently on the HR Happy Hour podcast. Listen to the recording here.