How Rolls-Royce created a new approach to diversity & inclusion

Aug 24, 2021 | Diversity | 2 comments

Rolls-Royce explains its journey to creating different, positive outcomes for under-represented graduates.

Our ambition at Rolls-Royce is to be the world’s leading industrial technology company as we drive the transition to net-zero carbon and design a better future for our planet through electrification and digitalisation. To achieve our vision, we need and value both existing knowledge and capabilities developing new and diverse talent.

One of the biggest challenges we face is attracting diverse talent into our sector. After dispelling myths that we’re still a car manufacturer (that’s not our Rolls-Royce though we share the name and brand) the biggest misperception is we’re only interested in certain demographics or university backgrounds.

Our 2020/21 recruitment cycle saw the launch of our new Engineering and Technology graduate programme in the UK.

Focusing on the behaviours, values and mindset we need to lead us into the future, the programme gives graduates the opportunity and breadth to develop through rotational ‘gigs’ across our global businesses and innovation hubs. Attracting students from diverse backgrounds, particularly female and ethnically diverse talent, has long been one of our top priorities globally.

Along with the many challenges 2020 brought, it gave us many opportunities to rethink, refresh and reinvent how we attract and recruit diverse early careers talent. Mainly, it accelerated our plans to take student attraction virtual. Shifting our efforts to social media platforms, online events and creating useful digital content has helped us reach students who might not have considered working at Rolls-Royce before.

Our careers social media channels and online events platform gave students direct access to our role models and leaders, exponentially strengthening our ability to engage with females and other under-represented student populations.

We’ve seen this shift reflected across the early careers market in all industries. Our future organisations are our current early careers talent, so as practitioners we’re leading the way with digital engagement and transforming the traditional employer brand relationship. From virtual careers festivals to social media voice, digital is no longer just an option.

Importantly, we wanted to create different, positive outcomes for under-represented talent. Our strategy centred around three focus areas – Outreach, Access and Selection. Underpinned by our global inclusive hiring strategy – the Attract pillar of our group D&I strategy – we redesigned to make sure we can reach, attract, and select from the widest and deepest diverse talent pools.


Direct entry routes, quality careers advice, enriched experiences and mentoring for underrepresented groups of student talent

In partnership with the STEM outreach team, we created an engagement approach to drive outcome-focused relationships with universities, school, and institutions, rather than just attending the traditional careers fairs.

Our target universities are now a more diverse mix through new partnerships. We look for a higher representation of female and ethnically diverse STEM students and all of our campus activity has been digital, so that we can reach a larger student population and target underrepresented groups in our events promotion.

We’ve continued to partner with STEM women, GEEP and Equal Engineers to offer careers talks and showcase not only the opportunities we offer, but also the behaviours, values and culture of our organisation – a key decision making factor for female Gen Z students when looking at future employers.

This year we sponsored two ‘Undergraduate of the Year’ (UGOTY) awards, extending our partnership with Target Jobs. Female UGOTY and Excellence through Adversity UGOTY are now the main pipeline to our UK summer internship programmes.

These awards give an opportunity for female students and students who have faced social, financial and health barriers to experience Rolls-Royce early in their degree journey. Many convert directly onto our future graduate programmes and next year we plan to add a third award focusing on neurodiverse traits.

A disproportionately high number of females are misdiagnosed or undiagnosed with neurodiverse conditions but share similar strengths. These are strengths we need, so this is a wonderful opportunity to identify STEM women who really do think differently and give them the opportunity to thrive.

We proudly build on our partnership with Code First Girls, working with them and our Innovation Hub team R2 Data Labs to up-skill female talent and increase their access to STEM opportunities through training and internships. By taking students who may have a non-traditional degree background through the Code First Girls programme, we’ve seen more creativity and agility amongst our 2021 hires.



Removing barriers to our opportunities and giving real insights into our world and people

To create equal opportunities for programme diverse talent, we needed to identify and address entry barriers for females and ethnic minority students. I’m proud to say we’re a global engineering company who has removed the degree classification from our entry criteria.

We typically see more female students studying physical sciences, maths or pursuing join honours programmes with business, so we’ve opened up our STEM programme to students with degrees in all STEM subjects, including joint honours programmes.

We’re taking this mindset forward as we develop our new Business & Enterprise graduate programme, which will be open to all degree disciplines, focusing on how we allow all students to apply demonstrating their potential through our assessment and selection process.


Creating a level playing field to enable all students to be their best

Every candidate should have the opportunity to demonstrate their strengths and their potential. Or final strand focused on refreshing assessment and selection.

We looked at parts of the process that may adversely impact particular groups and shifted away from traditional technical and competency assessment to focus on attracting the right behavioural profile.

As part of our selection review, we identified some of our online testing was potentially disadvantaging students from minority ethnic background, so removed them to enable all students equal opportunity to reach assessment centre stage

Embedding our leadership behaviours, values and broader skills across our assessment process was critical. Technical knowledge can be taught and by assessing a broader technical capability (problem solving, communications, ideas and concepts) allowed candidates to show what they can bring and how they can add value.


New world, new expectations?

We’ve made great progress in the last 12 months. We increased the number of our female hires globally across our early careers programmes and seen an increase in our hires with ethnic minority heritage in the UK & US.

We were awarded best graduate engineering employer at the Times Top 100 Awards for the 8th year running and we’re voted Universum UK Engineering Graduate Employer Award by both male and female students.

We’re proud of how far we’ve come this year, but it’s the start of a much-needed journey. Our focus is obviously now on our 2021/22 campaign. We’re looking forward to bringing in more diverse degree backgrounds, females, black heritage and ethnic minority students and diverse thinking and experiences through focusing on neurodiversity and social mobility.

Digital accessibility, inclusion, and sustainability continues to be a strong message from the market as we all consider the role virtual campus and assessment centres will continue to play moving forward.

This generation of students expect more from us than ever before. Real stories, representation and authentic voices are a given and organisations demonstrating a voice on commitment to social issues is increasingly important. We’ll continue engaging with students on their terms with authenticity, transparency and purpose, and most likely, online.

If you missed Rolls Royce talking about their programme at this year’s ISE Student Recruitment Conference you can catch up here

Was this article helpful?


  1. Stephen Rooney

    Great to hear such a positive and innovative approach to diversity. We look forward to welcoming Rolls Royce to our STEM Women events for the fourth year running. If there are any other companies looking to meet female STEM students at our online careers events then please get in touch as they will take place in September and October.

  2. Beverly Sadha

    I have extensive experience in the engineering manufacturing sector. How do you assist women owned businesses in this sector ?

Share This