Expert Alert

How networking can reduce gender gaps in STEM

"Portrait of Professor Bapna sitting on a bench outside with a brick wall in the background."
Professor Sofia Bapna. Credit: University of Minnesota.

March is Women’s History Month, celebrating the outstanding achievements and societal contributions of women. However, despite great strides in recent decades, gender gaps persist in some areas.

Carlson School of Management Assistant Professor Sofia Bapna researches women’s underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. She uses her findings to identify possible solutions to increasing women’s participation in the workforce.

Sofia Bapna, Ph.D.

“Women's participation in STEM has increased in recent decades. However, women remain underrepresented in the industry compared to men. According to WomenTech Network, the STEM sector represents about 25% of the total U.S. labor force, but women constitute just 35% of the STEM workforce. When it comes to women holding leadership positions in those fields, that number shrinks even more.

“Increased representation of women in STEM builds inclusivity and taps into more diverse ideas and perspectives. However, there are unseen barriers for women looking to enter STEM. A key example is professional networks, which are vital for career advancement. Networking helps you meet relevant and influential people, identify resources, acquire new knowledge and develop your skills. However, women in STEM are often disadvantaged in their access to such networks.

“In my study with Associate Professor Russell Funk, we explored a strategy to improve women’s networking outcomes at professional conferences. In this intervention, individuals received contact lists presented as ‘networking recommendations.’ However, the lists were nonreciprocal, which meant there was little overlap between people’s listed contacts. This allowed individuals to connect with more conference participants through the recommendations of the people who were recommended to them. We found this strategy increased:

  • The number of new contacts women met by 57%
  • The time those contacts spent talking with them by 90%
  • The number of LinkedIn connections they added by 29%
  • Their odds of changing jobs by a factor of 1.6

“Networking is a powerful tool that can help reduce the gender gap in male-dominated fields like STEM. While networking may feel uncomfortable, remember that making diverse connections is not just useful to you, but also useful to other people.”


Sofia Bapna is an assistant professor in the Information and Decision Sciences department at the Carlson School of Management. Her research focuses on women’s underrepresentation in STEM fields and entrepreneurship in the digital economy. Dr. Bapna’s work has been published in leading journals, such as Management Science and MIS Quarterly. She is a recipient of the INFORMS Information Systems Society’s Gordon B. Davis Young Scholar Award and the Association for Information Systems’ Early Career Award.

Media Contacts

Christopher Kelly

University Public Relations