10 practical steps for inclusive recruitment in STEM

Dec 8, 2023 | Diversity, Home Featured, How-to

There are lots of practical changes early talent recruiters can make to increase inclusivity and encourage female and non-binary applicants, explains STEM Women.

At STEM Women, we are often asked by recruiters for actionable advice or a ‘checklist’ to support women’s early careers.

It’s heartening that so many organisations recognise the need to support women in the workplace, and to increase their representation through recruitment and retention strategies. This is particularly true in STEM-related industries, where women make up just 26% of the workforce.

But it’s not the case that women need ‘special’ treatment in the recruitment process. When it comes to inclusion, the crucial point to remember is this: when we design processes for the minority, we benefit the majority.

For early careers, there are lots of practical changes that can be made to increase inclusivity and encourage female and non-binary applicants. These are changes which are universally beneficial and don’t put anyone at a disadvantage – such as clear communication, flexible approaches and removal of bias.

This isn’t an exhaustive checklist, but offers 10 steps focussed on recruitment to get the ball rolling, and give your existing processes an inclusivity health-check:


1. Get to know applicants: Whether it’s working with universities, taking part in off-campus events, or developing your own touch-points, early meetings with potential candidates build brand awareness and offer insights into what they expect from an employer. STEM Women’s whitepaper report ‘Understanding the Gender Imbalance in STEM’ shows that Gen Z isn’t settling for less.

2. Authentic EDI: In 2022, 86% of student and graduate respondents to our survey said that diversity and inclusion in the workplace was either ‘very important’ or ‘extremely important’ to them. 69% told us that a lack of diversity within an organisation could even cause them to reconsider a job offer. But respondents were quick to spot ‘diversity-washing’: “I think diversity is very important but sometimes these initiatives can come across slightly fake and as more of a PR stunt than a genuine desire for a diverse workplace.”

3. Showcase role models: You can’t be what you can’t see, so put your trailblazing women in the spotlight. They’re the proof that your workplace is a space where everyone can grow. 73% of our research respondents said they were more likely to apply to an organisation if they’d heard a company representative speak at a careers event – even a five or 10 minute talk can have a huge impact to inspire and reassure potential applicants.

Job descriptions

4. Craft job descriptions with care: Make use of AI tools that can check language and ensure there’s no implicit bias. Salary transparency should also be a given by now – ‘competitive’ means very different things to different people, and the cost-of-living crisis is affecting career decisions for the vast majority. Being up front can save difficult conversations and disappointment on both sides.

5. Make a statement: Women and other underrepresented individuals are less likely to apply for roles where they don’t fit 100% of the criteria, so actively encourage applications by emphasising that there is room to grow and learn as part of the job.


6. Avoid unconscious bias: Consider using redacted CVs where personal identifiers have been removed. Ensure your shortlisting panel is as diverse and representative as possible. The same goes for your interview panel. This is your chance to show potential hires that your commitment to diversity is more than just a statement on the website.

7. Context is key: There is a view that ‘men are hired for their potential whilst women have to demonstrate experience’. Use skills-based questions to navigate this, and consider the overall trajectory of each individual.


8. Be transparent and flexible: Provide as much information in advance as you possibly can – who they’ll meet, what will happen, what to wear – the workplace has changed, so let people know what’s expected now. Be flexible on timings (an 8.30am interview just isn’t possible for some), and consider sharing questions in advance, too – there aren’t many roles where total recall is essential, and this can really help to get the best out of candidates.

9. Is confidence the most crucial skill? Let’s rethink that. If the role involves pitching, presenting or sales then confidence is likely to be a key attribute, but in many roles, other skills might take precedence. These could include active listening, attention to detail, creativity, or the ability to translate complex ideas into easily-understood communications. Introverts are just as valuable as extroverts so don’t be automatically swayed by a super-confident exterior.


10. Communicate expectations: Recruiters get a lot of criticism for seemingly ‘ghosting’ candidates – often unfairly, as candidates are unaware of the volume of applications and the processes involved. Communication is key to avoiding a bad experience. Tell applicants if and when they will hear back, and if detailed, individual feedback isn’t possible, let them know this in advance.

Creating an inclusive recruitment process isn’t a quick, tick-box exercise, but it’s a journey worth taking.

You may also be interested in…

What attracts women and non-binary people into STEM careers?

What do STEM graduates want from employers in 2023?

How Arm and Uptree are engaging school students in STEM careers

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