Perhaps the worst kept secret in STEM-related industries today is that there aren\u2019t a whole lot of women involved. That won\u2019t be a news flash for anyone reading this column. Each of you knows the gender imbalance that exists in technical fields. We all know it\u2019s a problem, and most organizations are trying to do something about it\u2026but it\u2019s a bigger problem than most people realize.\nThat\u2019s because this isn\u2019t just an issue about women. It\u2019s about whether companies thrive or struggle. It\u2019s about whether companies have the brain power and skills they need to out-compete their competitors in a world where talent isn\u2019t just everything \u2013 it\u2019s the only thing. The \u201cwar for talent\u201d isn\u2019t just an HR issue. It\u2019s a boardroom issue because every member of an organization\u2019s leadership team knows how vital it is to have the right people to carry out their strategic plans. I will dive deeper into this in a moment, but if you don\u2019t take anything else from this column, please know that women are the answer, both in terms of individual companies and our economy as a whole.\nI\u2019m not the first to make this claim. In fact, your company may have internal champions who are saying very similar things. But too often, there is uncertainty about how to effectively turn that talk into action. It\u2019s no surprise, because this is a complex issue. Talking about it is naturally a lot easier than doing something impactful about it. But it\u2019s time to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk. That\u2019s what my blog for CIO Magazine will be about.\nIncreasing the number of women in STEM takes a lot more than talk. The honest truth is that we can run all the commercials and elementary school programs that tell girls and young women that the world can be their oyster if they pursue careers in STEM fields that have historically been male dominated\u2026 but things start to go off the rails when they realize that the reality of STEM-focused career differs greatly from the rosy picture they heard about growing up.\nAs disconcerting as this current dearth of women doing things like writing code or building projects is, if you really think about it, it\u2019s not like we couldn\u2019t have seen this coming. Historically, STEM-based companies have been \u2013 shall we say \u2013 male-dominated. This isn\u2019t a condemnation, just a statement of fact. As a result, the corporate cultures that have grown up around these organizations tend to reflect long-held societal norms in everything from the hours of business and the flexibility, or lack thereof, of scheduling, to informally-entrenched rules for career advancement. Based on this status quo, many women find themselves operating in what might be best described as \u201cWe love everything about you, now change\u201d mode.\nFortunately, the past does not have to be the prologue in terms of cultivating corporate cultures that provide an environment that is attractive to prospective female employees. Companies can re-orient their culture and practices toward retaining talented women and providing real opportunities for career growth and advancement. Since the first step toward affecting change is admitting that you have a problem, the numerous initiatives undertaken by companies like Google, Facebook and others are recognition of existing workplace imbalances.\nLong-term success in achieving corporate cultures that are optimized for the benefit of all employees will require companies to adopt a mode of adaptability that has not previously characterized STEM organizations. Which naturally begs the question, what are the main elements that would aid in creating an inclusive workplace that provides the potential for development and growth for all of its employees.\nAdapting a company\u2019s culture to promote inclusivity has to start at the top with a firm commitment of the company\u2019s leadership team. Although all levels of the organization need to be involved in the process, success is predicated upon an executive team that can clearly articulate, and demonstrate, the goals and the importance of the initiative. This requires a change in corporate culture where parity is the norm at all levels.\nFlexibility in work locations and hours should be a basic component of any organizational effort to recruit and retain women or men in technical roles. For example, parenthood should not be considered a terminal career decision. Providing the ability to work remotely and operating with a more fluid \u2013 rather than rigidly dictated \u2013 work schedule enables the company to retain valuable and productive employees while no longer making the decision to have children the equivalent of a binary career choice. Neutralizing the stigma around the primary caregivers of children by offering gender-equal policies has proven a very effective method for acquiring and keeping top talent.\nFemale mentorship in many organizations is a Catch-22-like situation in that the lack of women in middle and upper-level management roles means that there are few, if any, female role models that can provide the insight and encouragement needed for organizational advancement. Many organizations are dealing with this anomaly by creating programs to provide female employees with access to mentors outside of the company. Still others, Facebook for example, work to provide channels and tools to enable women to organize groups to share knowledge and experiences and provides free classes for women returning to the workplace.\nIn many instances, women are adversely affected by a lack of formal organizational structure. One area where this is frequently an issue is the lack of documented career paths. Through the provision of clearly defined modes of advancement be they for managerial paths or even attaining escalated levels of proficiency, job levels for example, for individual contributors can provide all employees, but especially women in technical roles a defined course of career development alternatives.\nAchieving the goal of creating an inclusive work environment requires a high degree of corporate commitment. There are no \u201cquick\u201d fixes, since in the vast majority of cases entrenched corporate \u201cnorms\u201d, both informal and formal, need to be examined for bias and other impediments that stand in the way of female advancement and job satisfaction. This process of self-assessment must be viewed as a corporate imperative under which even the oldest \u201cway we do things\u201d is subject to change or elimination. Only by understanding their unintended biases (which we all have) can corporations begin to establish the programs and processes that move the needle.