It's a well-known problem that women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. Women comprise 57% of the U.S. workforce, but only 26% of professional computing occupations. That’s down from 35% in 1990. But according to Monica Eaton-Cardone, the chief operating officer and co-founder of Chargebacks911, the problem begins much earlier. 

At the university level, we see drastic differences between the number of men and women who major in STEM fields. While 57% of bachelor’s degrees are awarded to women, only 18% of Computer and Information Sciences degrees go to women. Even more astounding, that’s down from 37% in 1985. How do we increase the number of women in tech workplaces unless we also increase them in the STEM departments of higher education?

In addition to being the co-founder and COO of Chargebacks911, a tech company focused on dispute mitigation and loss prevention for ecommerce merchants. Cardone is also the CIO of Global Risk Technologies and the co-founder of eConsumerServices. Cardone is a lifelong advocate for advancing women in STEM and has done extensive studies on gender disparity in STEM careers using big data analytics.

MC: What are some ways in which Americans can help encourage more women to take on STEM and IT positions?

MEC: The problem is we’re not cultivating that interest from a young age, which is that bottom up approach. Instead, we’re starting to promote STEM careers when kids are in college. That’s not effective because they have not been exposed to anything that is usable prior to that.

It’s also not effective to be promoting [women] from a company level or pressure companies to hire more girls in STEM just because there are not enough girls in STEM [laughs]. You really have to start at that younger age and give them the ability to establish an aptitude, to determine whether or not they have a natural interest.

MC: How do the number of female STEM and IT workers in the United States compare to the number of female STEM and IT workers in other countries you studied, such as China?

MEC: If we look at China, the other country that was studied, it was 48 percent women and 52 percent men that are in STEM careers. That is a stark difference to what we find in the US.

MC: What are some of the factors that lead to such a large difference between women in STEM careers in the United States and China?

MEC: One of the major differences is if we look at the Chinese culture, unfortunately there is not a lot of freedom for young girls to decide what classes they are going to study. The curriculum is established where all girls wind up taking computer science. They take computer programming, they advance in some of these different technologies and this is a mandatory course. In the US, we implement a different model for our curriculum, and the only thing that we mandate is the theory side of math and the theory side of reading.

Without giving the application side that ties things together, no human being is going to see the usefulness to continue in that subject. It would be like expecting a [child] to want to be a doctor if he or she only got medical books to read. The thing that motivates a doctor is they know they can actually help people get well.

MC: You founded an initiative called Get Paid for Grades, where students are given the choice of either $500 cash or a $1,000 scholarship to college if they are able to raise their grades by the end of the school year. What was your most recent group of students like?

MEC: Out of the 16 [students], 10 were girls. All 10 girls had determined that they were not going to pursue college, and their careers of choice were very traditional – many of them either wanted to be a singer, a dancer, a secretary or a nurse. [Those careers are] fine, but this is the highest that their aspirations took them.

After the program… every single one chose a scholarship when at first they had selected cash [for their grades]. They chose a scholarship and went to a community college locally. And out of the 10 girls, eight of them wound up choosing a STEM career to pursue. These were people who thought that they had no math skills, there was nothing interesting in STEM or they never heard about it.

One of the strategies we use to give them an aptitude for this is [to teach] them some really cool things you can do with Excel and numbers. One of the issues is that women often don’t have exposure to being able to see some of the creative tangible components that you can use with math. They will generally just have exposure to the theory, whereas boys will select [STEM] classes as some of their electives. By the nature [of the classes], they end up being exposed to how they can turn that theory into something that can be useful in life. And that makes a big difference, because you wind up being interested in things you can work with.

MC: What advice do you have for women who want a successful STEM career?

MEC: You’re not going to get anywhere feeling sorry for yourself and waiting for someone to give you an opportunity. You have to go out and get it.

The second thing is that whatever job you have, you have to induce passion in that job, and you have to make sure that you are becoming the very best that you can be. That means continuous effort, that means not being afraid to promote yourself – you can’t take a backseat and consider that someone is going to see the hard work that you’re doing and promote you, because that does not happen [laughs]. This is something that men through tradition are naturally more equipped to do.

These are things that women of the fold can learn more from. There’s terrific opportunity in STEM, particularly IT. One of the reasons women have a natural advantage, even though you’ll never hear anyone say this, is women do more purchasing online than men in any other demographic. Women control purchasing online. The online ecommerce environment is driving a terrific amount of technology evolution. We have a unique way of looking at the world; if women get into the technology field than they are going to bring that diversity to create that edge and innovation that is needed right now. 

If you're interested in learning more about initiatives devoted to helping women gain the knowledge and experience needed to succeed in STEM roles, we encourage you to check out the following links: