Dr. Ella Roininen On Closing the Diversity Gap in STEM

Dr. Ella Roininen
Director of the Institute for International Management at Kalaidos University

Dr. Ella Salome Roininen is Director of the Institute for International Management, Kalaidos University of Applied Sciences Switzerland, and a lecturer of Gender Equality, Diversity and Organizational Dynamics in a number of universities internationally. She has a doctorate from the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. Ella has worked and studied in multiple countries, her recent experience including eight years at IBM Switzerland managing global teams, and teaching diversity at MBA courses in South India.

Ella is particularly interested in gender equality in working life and cultural representations of gender. Ella wants her students to be aware of and challenge the identities and norms placed upon us, to learn how gender is wrapped into organizational cultures, how difference is constructed in our social environment, and how to manage equal working groups. Ella’s goal is to empower women and young students to take the space that belongs to them, so that they can live out their full potential and increase equality around themselves.

1. What do you do and what is your background in STEM?

I am a lecturer in gender equality and organizational dynamics. My interest in STEM started in the late nineties when I was working for an enterprise training software engineers.

As a result of my experiences in a number of fields and a number of countries, I developed an interest in women’s studies and gender equality in working life.

In my doctoral dissertation I examined gendered professional identities in technology engineering and primary school teaching. Which is, how people perceive their teaching and engineer professionalism; how people live the roles of men and women in these very male-dominated and female-dominated fields; and what makes it so hard to challenge the gender bias in these occupations.

Finally, before my current role in the university sector, I worked at IBM Global Services for eight years, which gave me a real insight into questions of diversity in the ICT industry.

2. Why do you believe in supporting diverse STEM talent?

I don’t think girls and boys come into this world with gender‐specific interests. We are all different with our individual talents, needs, and ambitions. However, our environment may either encourage or discourage us from realizing these interests.

To me, supporting diverse STEM talent means that we train ourselves to become aware of what we expect from ourselves and from different people, how we communicate these expectations in our working environment, and what kinds of opportunities we give to people, as well as finding out the best ways to support the aspirations of the people we manage. Everybody can use a little push to be able to live out their full potential.

3. What is the biggest challenge in achieving STEM diversity?

Gender diversity is a hugely complex issue. It deals with how society sees men and women; how different professional fields are discursively constructed; how specific organizational cultures and team dynamics form and so on. There also isn’t just one big group called “women” or “men”; different social positions intersect. There are women from different ethnic or social backgrounds, young women, older women, mothers, and so on. All of these varied positions have an effect on our experiences in working life. Plus, the role of media should not be ignored.

It is important to observe how we socialize girls and boys into different hobbies and professional interests. For example, in my research I found that even in ICT companies women tend to take the role of a project manger (i.e. taking care of people) whereas men are more likely to be developers.

I think we have to be careful how we treat boys and girls. Even if not everything is gender neutral, as parents and educators I think it is important that we are aware of the messages we send to little children. It has been proven that even small babies are treated differently depending on whether they are a girl or boy.

Needless to say, girls are just as clever and talented with technology as boys, but historically boys became the creators, and girls became the end users. These socially constructed images still exist and need time and effort to be removed. I think the younger generations are changing the picture.

Online harassment is also a big question today. Girls who are active and brave online and in the gaming industry may get socially punished for expressing themselves.

Finally, as managers we need to examine if there are cultural dynamics or discriminatory practices in our organizations that work to exclude women. Leadership and management practices such as compensation and promotion patterns, flexibility in work arrangements, and access to networking and mentoring programs need to be evaluated.

4. What inclusive hiring strategies do you see as key for closing the STEM diversity gap?

I would not rule out preferential treatment. Sometimes disadvantaged groups may need special attention, such as mentoring and networking programs and even be given a head start.

In Germany there has been lots of discussion about having quotas for female board members. Personally, I think this kind of preferential treatment is justified when our aim is to have equality. There are two approaches to equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. The equality of opportunity approach looks at qualifications and abilities and equality of outcome focuses on hiring a more equal number of different people. I think this is one of the possible approaches to fostering diversity within STEM.

Preferential treatment does not need to mean that less qualified people are selected, which is a common misunderstanding. Unless we look into it closer, we do not know who is better qualified and who is less qualified and how people got into certain positions.

5. What is your advice to diverse talent looking to join or progress within the STEM sector?

Believe in yourself. Don’t let other people define you. Play the game but also ask for what you deserve. No one belongs here more than you do.

Role models are important. When we are able to recruit diverse people in different positions, this sends a signal to everybody else as well as providing the possibility for people who want to aspire to these positions because they see it is possible. This is why role models are extremely important, especially in industries where females are underrepresented.

I also think mentor programmes are very effective. Research shows this is one of the most effective ways to foster talent and help people learn the rules of the game. An industry-savvy and professionally experienced mentor can teach a younger talent- focus. It is important to be specific about our professional focus, as well teaching how to use our judgement in the professional situations we experience and are put into.


Phaidon International’s Inclusive Talent series brings together Hiring Managers and industry professionals to address industry pipeline challenges in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics).


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