Removing barriers for women in science

2018 saw an annual shortfall of up to 59,000 engineering graduates and technicians to fill core engineering roles, in an industry with a fast growing demand (Engineering UK). With an obvious need and drive for change to fill the growing skills gap, what are the next steps for STEM organisations to take? Women and girls are underrepresented from secondary school to employment in STEM related fields. In 2018, women made up only 22% of core STEM occupations and just 12% of engineering professionals (Wise). This is not a new issue and has been vastly spoken about for years now; Women\’s networks and initiatives are growing to provide a platform for women and girls to be successful in STEM related fields and close the skills gap but not enough change has been made.

Woman in office

There are many things that businesses can do to attract and retain more female talent, broaden the range of their hires and close the gender gap. It not only makes business sense, but it is crucial to the sustainability of this industry for organisations to take action and increase their gender diversity. Using gender diverse imagery on websites and landing pages is a great start but it just isn\’t enough! Businesses need to be prepared to analyse and challenge their current culture and behaviours in order to create an inclusive business culture. Taking these steps will deliver long term commercial success but only if it becomes part of business as usual.

Businesses have the power to change the picture of gender diversity in STEM related fields. Not only in relation to their own employer brand but in improving the attractiveness of the sector to women and girls.

Inclusive businesses are diverse businesses and have the ability to drive innovation and change which naturally leads to growth and success. In a competitive sector, the organisations that invest in their inclusion journey will become the employers of choice. Jenny Hinde, Director, The Clear Company.

Filling the skills gap starts early by reaching out to girls in education, making the sector and it\’s opportunities relevant to them. University applicants and graduates have to believe that a sustainable, rewarding career is possible. Showcase female role models, community partnerships, education partnerships online and via social media. Advertise the things that your business does that are important to women and younger applicants. For example, offering flexible working, getting involved with initiatives for girls in STEM.

Here are just a few things to consider when looking to improve the diversity of hires:

Job Design:
Getting creative with the job design is a really vital step when considering how to attract the widest pool of talent; it is the first interaction the majority of applicants will have with the company so It is important that it reflects core values and showcases positive reasons to work there.

STEM job designs often over rely on qualifications; PHD\’s and years of sector specific experience. In 2017, women only made up 14% of graduates in Engineering and Technology (STEM women); Requesting a degree level qualification will automatically narrow the talent pool and has an adverse effect on potential female candidates. Whilst understanding that there are technical skills to these roles that must be considered, there are steps that can be taken to overcome this:

As an organisation, you should consider offering apprenticeships and/or the ability for people to learn and train on the job, the opportunity to grow and develop within the company.

Take a risk on transferable skills, being too focused on specific qualifications will narrow the pool of talent and reduce innovation and creativity within a team. A degree shouldn\’t be the only route into a job in this sector.

Reduce the number of essential criteria listed: men will apply for a job when they meet only around 60% of the criteria, but women will only apply if they meet 100%. (Harvard Business review). Having an extensive list of skills and qualifications in a job description makes a role less attractive to female applicants. By including additional or desirable competencies, already women are less likely to put themselves forward for the role.

Once the job description has been agreed, the criteria for that role should be used when shortlisting candidates. This is to ensure that you do not filter out female talent at this early stage as a result of bias or a lack of clarity of criteria. A sift matrix should be used every time you recruit.

Interviewing/ Unconscious bias:
Unconscious biases can prevent us from hiring objectively, learning how to be aware of them will improve the fairness of assessment.

Women make up only 13% of management positions in STEM related fields (WISE). The result of this is that men are making the majority of the hiring decisions and conducting the interviews. As well as narrowing the diversity of thought and innovation at the top of an organisation, it allows for the effects of UB to influence decision making. Human nature means that we are likely to have an affinity with people who remind us of ourselves, the like me effect; With men making the decisions they are much more likely to favour male candidates than female candidates, regardless of skills and competencies. Investing in the training of hiring managers will provide them with the right skills and resources to reduce bias increase the diversity of hire.

Ultimately, increasing the diversity of talent opens up all kinds of benefits to a business. It guarantees innovation, lowers employee turnover, provides an organisation with a wealth of new skills and improves productivity just to name a few! Women and girls are massively underrepresented in this industry and change will only happen when businesses take responsibility and do more. It may seem overwhelming as there has been such little change so far, but there are practical, achievable and measurable steps to be taken that will achieve gender inclusion. In an industry facing an increasing skills gap there is no room to be missing out on talent!


About the Clear Company

The Clear Company are the recognised leaders of inclusive recruitment and talent management insight, training and technology in the UK. Established in 2003 clients such as Lloyd\’s of London, Highways England, Ofcom, The Civil Service, Co-op and PageGroup have taken significant steps on their inclusion journey, becoming leaders in their sectors around hiring and ongoing talent management.

Products include:

Clear Audit – an in-depth process of research, interviews and workshops designed to engage people across the business. Delivered by experts in their field, Clear Audit provides an accurate insight to the business showing the different angles that impact diversity. It establishes foundations for change, with innovative roadmaps supported by practical solutions and toolkits.

Clear Assured – HR inclusion Software that intelligently guides organisations through their specific inclusion journey resulting in an accredited standard.

Clear Learning – an award winning and accredited learning programme proven to improve skills and overcome inclusive hiring challenges. Available as a digital Learning Management System, as a 2 day face to face workshop or a blended digital and 1 day workshop course.

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