The upcoming STEM series will run throughout September and spotlight local government and private sector executives and their insights about the shortage in STEM workers/local pipeline gap. We’ll publish the stories periodically throughout “SeptSTEMber” in Q&A or feature format.
The greater Washington area employs the largest percentage of STEM workers (18.8 percent in Maryland and 16.5 in Virginia, according to a U.S. Census report), suggesting the area depends heavily on STEM competence for its continued sustainability. And while industry and government execs are eager to hire STEM graduates, the number of U.S. high school seniors who are both proficient and interested in STEM lies at a meager 16 percent.
WashingtonExec recently interviewed Janet Foutty, Deloitte Federal Practice leader and Federal Consulting national managing director.
WashingtonExec: When did you become interested in STEM issues?
Janet Foutty: Well, I certainly noticed it when I was in school. As a woman in the Quantitative Business Analysis program, well, let’s just say, years ago, I realized quite quickly that I was outnumbered. And I don’t think it was ever a lack of interest, intelligence or inspiration on the part of women at the time, I think it was more a case of simply not being talked about as an option. I pursued it because it played to my strengths of curiosity and analytical rigor (and I like it!). I was (also) encouraged by my scientist father, but a lot of my contemporaries chose other paths that were more accessible.
I suppose the turning point for me, in terms of my interest in helping others, was when I joined the workforce and saw the opportunities to do meaningful work and build a career based on a STEM-focused education. Certainly as I was in a position in my career to begin helping others, I found that to be extremely rewarding. And I still do — I actively encourage the next generation of leaders to reach out to the community, schools and other environments where they can have a positive influence in demonstrating the rewarding benefits of a career in STEM fields.
WashingtonExec: What do you see as the underlying root of this problem?
Janet Foutty: I heard recently that we, as a nation, will face a shortage of 230,000 STEM workers by 2018. The shortage of students pursuing math and science careers, as well as outdated teaching methods, threaten America’s competitive advantage. Recruiting new talent through our educational system is an important part of addressing this shortage, but it is not enough to meet the demand.
I think there are three considerations when we talk about engaging the next generation in STEM fields.
First, as leaders in business, we should be doing everything we can to encourage more women and men to build careers in any of the STEM fields. To that end, I believe in, and have personally benefitted from, active mentoring. I think that leaders have a responsibility to share their experience, insights, and networks with those coming up. The inspiration I received from those who took the time to spend with me both on their journey and guiding me through mine was (and still is!) invaluable.
Second, current business leaders need to work closely with their Human Resources counterparts to make policies more adaptable and enlightened for career/life balance. If there is one question I receive more than any other as I talk to women in particular in the STEM workforce, it is “How do I manage it all?”. I tell them that it is absolutely possible, but I also advise them to use every benefit available and work within the system to make the best decisions for their own specific situation. I encourage them to be bold on this front. The system is there to help and foster the career/life balance.
Finally, I encourage the next generation to work the networks very actively. With the instant and always-on communication channels we have at our disposal, we are more connected than ever before (especially true for technology-types). Social media is an effective means of keeping those interested connected to prospects, openings and development opportunities.
WashingtonExec: How and where should policymakers be focusing their resources and efforts to augment the pipeline and address the underlying problem?
Janet Foutty: Well, I think there is a lot to be said for public/private partnerships. There is a tremendous amount of energy to be tapped, and they are an essential tool in tackling our education challenges. I believe that we can create an environment that fosters business partnerships, and we look to our government leaders to help create this environment. At the core, though, business participation in the process that will result in more effective policies, restored confidence and increased certainty, while creating a solid foundation for future growth.
There is also an immigration aspect to STEM in terms of greater access to high-skilled visas for STEM-degree professionals. Talent is the fuel that drives the U.S. economic engine. Our country must be able to attract and retain the best and the brightest, regardless of borders, so we can encourage innovation and growth. Because Deloitte employs thousands of people with STEM degrees, we have been in discussions with policymakers on ways to address this issue.
And it’s not just here in our country. Businesses, in all nations, should join in their country’s public policy debates in the collaborative spirit—a new way of collaborating together to move our nations and the world forward—to help craft a prescription for the future.
WashingtonExec: What challenges do you see currently impeding the path to implementing that solution and making STEM reform a priority in the U.S.?
Janet Foutty: There is good momentum in getting students more excited and more interested in STEM careers. I see truly inspiring examples on a regular basis of public-private partnerships making exciting things happen in the classroom. But we need to do more; we need to be reaching more students, where students are, where they are paying attention. And we do that by getting more companies, more STEM-educated employees involved at the grassroots level. In terms of the immigration-related STEM issues, we hope that discussions in Congress move forward this fall. We have been actively engaged and encourage others impacted by this issue to continue reaching out.
WashingtonExec: Why do you care?
Janet Foutty: In my view, this issue is connected to everything I care about. I care for my country — to remain a leader in innovation on the world stage. I care for my firm — to be able to provide the next generation of leadership and the generation behind that one. And I care for my own kids and their friends, many of whom are interested in STEM careers, and I want the best education for them and a world of opportunities in their future. There is nothing more satisfying and rewarding than intellectual capacity and training to help solve a really complex problem, whether that is science, business or broader society. That is what I have built my own professional life around and what I would like to leave in a better place for others.