Federal data show women represent just a quarter of the science, technology, engineering and math workforce today in the U.S. Abbott recognized that this underrepresentation of women in STEM was bigger than any one company could address on its own. At the same time, Abbott saw an overwhelming need for internship experiences in the field, and in 2019, Abbott received hundreds of applications for about 50 spots in its STEM high school internship program. The immediate challenge was three-fold: raise awareness of female underrepresentation in STEM, mobilize companies around the issue and help them create opportunities to give girls access to meaningful STEM experiences early on in their education journey.
In 2012, Abbott addressed the problem of underrepresentation of women in STEM by creating a high school STEM internship program that provides hands-on experience and a path to a career in STEM. This program has provided a proven pipeline for women scientists and engineers within Abbott’s own organization. Abbott recently started hiring its first former high school interns as full-time engineers and eight of the 11 are female. By sharing its internship blueprint publicly, Abbott sought to replicate the success of its program on a national scale and accelerate equitable representation in STEM.
The dissemination of Abbott’s internship blueprint helped plant the seed to grow more STEM internships nationwide, particularly those that build partnerships with local schools to recruit women and students from diverse backgrounds, and support the pipeline of diverse talent into STEM jobs.
From developing the more than 30-page blueprint to amplifying the initiative through a robust multi-platform communications plan, the creation and execution of the “Shaping the Future of STEM” campaign was uniquely centered on celebrating and empowering women in STEM.
Now-retired Abbott engineer, pioneer and founder of Abbott’s high school internship program, Corlis Murray, played a central role in leading the development of the blueprint, while also serving as one of the key spokespeople for the campaign. At age 17, Corlis quit her $1.76 an hour job at a restaurant to take an internship at IBM – a move that changed her professional future. As someone who experienced firsthand the life-changing value of early exposure to STEM, Corlis’ expertise and perspective were invaluable to the successful rollout of this campaign.
First, teams from Public Affairs and Human Resources worked with external partner STEMconnector to design a scalable blueprint plan for other companies to create their own high school STEM internship programs. The detailed “Shaping the Future of STEM” blueprint offered guidance not only on how to build an internship curriculum, but also how to implement a holistic program including the business use case for high school internships, as well as writing example job descriptions and building mentorship frameworks.
Abbott chose Women’s Equality Day, August 26, 2019, to release the blueprint, sending copies directly to CEOs and human resources leaders at Fortune 500 companies. Abbott’s content specialists built a dedicated STEM website to house and facilitate downloads of the blueprint. Abbott amplified the news with a celebration of female leadership by sending young women from the internship program, as well as top female Abbott scientists and engineers to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
As an initiative built by and for women, Abbott wanted female voices to drive the campaign, both internally and externally. To reach key stakeholders and companies across the country, Abbott published an open letter from Corlis, taking out full-page ads in top newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle. Abbott paired this with other paid placements, including OOH ads in high-traffic areas like Times Square, the subway near the NYSE and Silicon Valley, along with an online ad spread in Politico.
Abbott complemented its marketing strategy with an all-female satellite media tour featuring Corlis, as well as a medical director from Abbott’s diagnostics business, a high school intern, and a former high school intern who now works for Abbott as an engineer. Abbott continued to highlight female voices and the vision of the campaign on its owned and internal channels, including posts across social media, an Abbott Edge News Alert, the It All Adds Up Sustainability e-news update, its investor newsletter, the Abbott World internal employee website and other U.S. employee communications.
Abbott’s campaign successfully helped raise awareness across stakeholders regarding the issue of underrepresentation of women in the STEM workforce. Reactions from blueprint recipients demonstrated how the campaign mobilized companies around the issue. The responses Abbott received from companies across industries were proof of the value of its internship framework.
Since 2012, Abbott’s program has grown from three students at one Abbott site to the nearly 50 students the company hosted virtually across the U.S. this summer. With 97% of Abbott’s former interns pursuing STEM in college and women representing more than 70% of the first former interns hired as full-time Abbott engineers, the blueprint has already demonstrated its potential to drive change.
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