How to attract more women into STEM

Oct 19, 2020 | Diversity

The majority of female STEM students would expect to read the gender pay gap report before accepting a job, reports STEM Women.

STEM Women’s whitepaper, Understanding the Gender Imbalance in STEM, reveals female students’ attitudes towards gender issues that are prevalent within the science, technology and engineering sectors.

Using survey data from 176 female STEM students and recent graduates studying at universities across the UK, the report reveals a number of key specifications that young women look for when applying for roles and accepting job offers after they graduate.

It found that 54% of respondents stated the gender balance of a company would be an influencing factor when deciding on a job offer, and that 74% of female students feel that diversity initiatives are either extremely or very important when they are researching companies. Plus, 65% of female STEM students would expect to read the gender pay gap report before accepting a job.

Transparency is key

One respondent highlighted what she would look for when deciding which companies to work for. “I expect at least a breakdown by gender of the current workforce, as well as strong policies about equal pay and opportunities,” said Catarina from Business Analytics at Tu Dublin.

These findings show that there is a clear opportunity for employers to work hard to introduce transparent and effective diversity initiatives and equal pay policies within their companies to actively encourage more young women to enter fields with gender imbalances.

Young women are interested in companies that align with their views on equality and diversity; they will actively apply if the company values align with their own.

However, the report also highlights some of the issues surrounding ‘tokenism’. Respondents raised concerns about their gender being used to ‘tick a box’, rather than hires being made on merit.

This emphasises the importance of companies being transparent and genuine in their attempt to attract and retain women in STEM.

“Everyone should be examined on their merits. No one should be hired to tick a box,” said Gemma Ranson from Meng Mechanical Engineering at London South Bank.


Diversity initiatives

Companies should implement diversity initiatives that include policies for women such as post-maternity support for mothers returning to work, as well as benefits for working mothers and improving flexible working are all invaluable.

It’s also important for companies to constantly revaluate workplace practices to ensure they align with new diversity and inclusion initiatives.

One way to do this is to send out surveys to employees, that way the workforce can provide honest feedback on culture-related issues and suggest solutions.

Introducing minimum requirements can also work towards making the workplace more inclusive, for example, companies can insist on having at least one female employee on internal committees that vote on workplace issues, diversity initiatives, partnerships, and dress codes. It can also be hugely beneficial for employees with hiring responsibilities to have mandatory ‘unconscious bias’ training, to avoid falling into positive discrimination pitfalls.


Confidence issues

When looking into why young women are less likely to choose a career in STEM, the report investigated issues surrounding a lack of confidence and imposter syndrome.

A third (34%) of respondents said they had experienced feelings of imposter syndrome and over half of respondents declined to answer. This could suggest either a lack of understanding of the subject or that there is still a stigma attached when discussing these issues.

One way that employers could combat the feeling of imposter syndrome in graduates is by offering mentoring schemes. In the study, 68% of respondents said that if a company had a mentoring scheme, they would be more likely to apply.

One respondent commented, “I think a mentor is an incredible asset in growing personally and professionally, and it is not always easy to find one. So, an opportunity like that would be very valuable.”


STEM events

The study also reveals that female focused STEM events are a key resource for employers to attract more women into STEM.

The majority (95%) of respondents said they were more likely to apply to a company they had spoken to at a careers event and 58% said that STEM Women events had changed their minds about potential career paths.

Networking and hearing inspiring talks from potential employers or role models at career events are hugely influential when young women are job hunting.

One respondent said, “as a chemist I would only have thought about lab-based work but after the career fair I could see that the skills acquired from my degree are interchangeable and could be applied in finance and data science. This opens significantly more opportunities.”

Representation is a powerful tool when attracting and retaining female STEM talent. By visibly promoting and championing equality, a company’s reputation can be boosted, and a positive precedent is set.

Recruitment and retention are very closely linked, for example, if a female candidate sees women within the company in senior positions, it can encourage them to strive for the same.

“It was inspiring to see women succeeding in their field especially seeing women of colour. It made it feel more possible for me to succeed,” commented one respondent.

In the wake of Covid-19 and the negative impact it has had on the gender pay gap, there has never been a more important time to tackle the fundamental skills gaps and shortages in the UK STEM industry.

Our whitepaper has revealed that female graduates who are entering industries with gender imbalances will favour employers with effective diversity initiatives and equal pay policies.


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