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Should Marketing Be the Second M in STEM?

Should Marketing Be the Second M in STEM?

We keep hearing that every company is a technology company and that greater STEM education is critical to prepare a workforce who can meet technical demands. This gap continues to grow and there is a very real threat of a shortage of qualified, technically-skilled workers. We also see gaps in gender diversity that begin in STEM education and grow as men and women climb the corporate ladder.

It’s time to think of STEM as more than just Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, and include Marketing to provide a more well-rounded set of critical skills that gets us closer to solving the problems of tomorrow.

Why is marketing so critical?

To succeed in the digital world, both technical skills and what are traditionally known as “soft skills” are required. It is no longer enough to have a deep technical understanding if you can't communicate effectively. Nor can you succeed if you have excellent communication and interpersonal skills but no technical background.

Marketing skills fit hand-in-glove with technical skills to deliver the customer experience that defines companies' success in a digital environment. Recently, LinkedIn analyzed hundreds of thousands of job postings in order to determine which skills companies need most in 2019 and found that employers are looking for workers with both soft skills and hard skills. Digital marketing, social media marketing, and corporate communications are listed in the top 25 skills, alongside hard skills like cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and scientific computing.

Data is growing exponentially, and it is critical to get a handle on what the data means and use it to tell meaningful stories. According to McKinsey, “data-driven organizations are 23 times more likely to acquire customers, six times as likely to retain customers, and 19 times as likely to be profitable as a result.” Yet a MicroStrategy study found that “only 16% of organizations can currently say that 75% or more of their employees have access to company data and analytics.”

Thinking strategically about what the data is saying and developing solutions to the problems it identifies is where marketers thrive. Marketing helps bridge the gap to use data effectively and provide a creative outlet that technical fields lack and people need to be well-rounded.

Coupling marketing with the traditional STEM fields will lead to an environment that encourages talent to be more well-rounded and think strategically about data in ways that will improve customer experience and be most helpful to the business.

Marketing also provides a creative outlet missing in traditional STEM fields. Creativity fuels innovation and leads to new products and services that allow employees and companies to flourish. Business leaders like Richard Branson and Warren Buffet take time out for creative reflection to improve at work. According to an IBM study from 2010, CEOs ranked creativity as the #1 factor for future success. Given the need to “innovate or die,” creativity has only grown in importance since then.

Marketing is one of the few disciplines where creativity is baked into both curriculum and job function, and the rise of MarTech now couples that creativity with the technical skills of traditional STEM fields. A recent study showed that creative problem solving sessions with groups that have even a minimal amount of training in creativity tools and principles generated 350% as many ideas as groups without training; these ideas were 415% more original.

So if we reframe thinking around STEM to include Marketing, we can expand creative thinking and better prepare companies to stay innovative and meet future demands - as well as providing a necessary creative outlet for employees to succeed.

[Related: Innovation Defined: 3 Keys to Future Proofing Your Business]

Closing the gender gap.

STEM skills are a critical foundation in the digital age. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a need for one million more STEM professionals, and that number is expected to grow.

Yet the number of women in STEM is actually dropping, with the sharpest drop-off being when women enter high school. This could be because women don’t see themselves represented in STEM fields, or because they have more options and the ability to choose other fields.

Couple that with data from the latest Women in the Workplace study that identified the “broken rung” holding women back from leadership roles, and the Wall Street Journal argument that women aren’t reaching the ranks of CEO (a dismal 6% of CEOs are women) because they have deep specialization in their fields and not enough breadth, as well as being under-represented in C-suite roles with P&L responsibilities. It is no wonder the World Economic Forum estimates an average of 108 years globally and 208 years in the US to achieve parity.

Yet this year also saw the largest increase year-over-year in female CMO appointments, up to 36% from 32% last year, and more are gaining P&L responsibilities. Reframing our thinking to include Marketing alongside traditional STEM fields could help close the gap faster. It would make traditional STEM fields more approachable to women, and since marketing is thought of as a more "female field," it could help women see themselves represented to a greater degree.

Since marketing is leading the C-suite in rate of change toward parity, this change in thinking to incorporate Marketing into STEM could serve as a catalyst to accelerate the rate at which we close the gender gap.

[Related: The EU’s Next Big Move: Taking Leadership to Close the Gender Gap in AI]


The future depends on bridging the gap between humans and technology. It will require well-rounded leaders who care about making the lives of their customers better, and who have the technical know-how to create products and services with a purpose and bring them to market effectively. A focus on the traditional STEM fields misses critical components of business and human understanding that will be required to succeed.

STEM needs a rebrand. It's time to add a second M and create a more diverse and inclusive field that prepares the workforce of the future and leaders of tomorrow. We need STEMM.

[Related: Leading from the Next Generation: Four Simple Ways to Stop Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes in the Workplace]


Holly Sydnor is an Effie award-winning marketer and Founder and Chief Brand and Marketing Officer at All Women Leadership – AWL Strategies, LLC – a women-owned and led consulting firm in Washington, DC that provides branding, marketing, communications, and change strategies to innovative, future-focused leaders, and supports women business leaders by donating 5% of profits to organizations helping women ascend to leadership roles.

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