5 Steps you can take to encourage more women to get into STEM roles
In recent years, there has been a rising concern about the lack of women in tech roles. On International Women’s Day 2019, this issue has been in the limelight, all the more.
Debating about a subject can surely be a great way to spread awareness. It’s healthy, no doubt. But to bring about a real change, perhaps we need to do more than just talk about the lack of women in STEM? Let’s put into practice what we’ve been preaching.
As a woman who has been associated with STEM for the past 15 years, it’s upsetting for me to see that over these years, the figures haven’t changed much. Statistics show that in 8 leading tech companies of the world, women are highly underrepresented in the workforce. At companies like Microsoft and Google, female employees make up a mere one-third of the total workforce.
Women need to break the stereotypical image and step into STEM. But before we discuss how we can get them to do that, let’s look at why we need more women in STEM roles?
Why do we need to improve gender diversity in STEM?
Amongst European countries, the UK has the lowest proportion of women in engineering roles. 14% of girls attend engineering universities and only 10% get into engineering careers. And unfortunately, these figures haven’t changed much over the years. (See figure below).
It’s clear that thousands of talented females aren’t even considering a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This is a concern because there is already a skills shortage in the STEM sectors.
A more diverse workforce is bound to maximize creativity, advancement and competitiveness. According to Forbes, 85% of large global enterprises believe that mixed teams tend to perform better.
On average, teams with an equal number of men and women generate 41% more revenue for the organisation. (Source: Forbes)
There is more than one reason for this. Imagine a team of like-minded individuals, with the same educational background, who have come across the same challenges. The ideas they would bring to the workplace would be very similar. On the other hand, a team with a diverse way of thinking would be able to offer non-homogenous views. With the skills shortage crisis already there, attracting a diverse pool of talent is much needed.
So, if you also want your tech organisation to perform better in 2019, now is the time to get into action. There are simple steps to take that will surely go a long way.
1. Take gender bias out of your job adverts
Words matter. As a copywriter, I can vouch for that. But interestingly enough, even research backs the fact that the way a job advert is worded has an impact on the applicants. Certain words and phrases such as ‘enforcement’, ‘exhaustive’ and ‘fearless’ are deemed to be masculine and tend to attract male candidates.
If you are looking to attract more females to your organisation, then use terms like ‘in touch with’, ‘catalyst’ and ‘transparent’ in the job advert, as women tend to resonate more with these.
There are online tools such as Textio that use machine language to analyse how biased your language is. You can use these to take the gender bias out of your job adverts.
2. Foster a culture of inclusivity
According to a study conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation, 80% of women in science, engineering and technology roles tend to ‘love’ their job initially. However, 10-20 years down the lane, at a mid-career level, almost 56% leave their organisations. The quit rate is twice as high for women (41%) compared to that of men (17%).
Surveys point to various factors that contribute to this. Women in tech find their workplace to be ‘patronising’ and ‘condescending’. Due to the high rate of women leaving the tech world, unfortunately, only 5% of women make it to leadership positions. In other words, this means that most organisations have mostly men in decision making roles.
3. Offer flexible working to your employees
Make flexible working a norm and promote work-life balance to all employees, not just women. Traditionally, women have taken more responsibility for home and family care. This is also one of the major reasons why only a few women make it to leadership roles. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Create a reputation for being a firm that cares for the well-being of its staff. Also, make sure your firm accounts for flexible schedules when making promotion decisions. Flex working should never have a negative impact on your staff’s career.
4. Give career development opportunities to all
Women in tech have lower job satisfaction because they face difficulty in accessing core technical roles. A study carried out to investigate the reasons for women leaving tech roles found that women complain of getting less training and development opportunities. Undermining behaviour and lack of support from their managers add to the lack of job satisfaction. And this results in them leaving the workplace altogether.
To help fill the skills gap at your organisation, make sure females and ethnic minorities are being offered equal opportunities at all levels.
5. Highlight female role models & offer support
Women make up less than 20 % of the workforce in the tech industry. With a minority of women making it to lead tech roles, it is understandable why we mostly only hear stories of successful men. If your organisation has women holding senior positions in boardrooms, perhaps you should highlight their achievements? This would aspire more women and young girls to follow in their footsteps.
Create mentorship programmes that let women in senior roles offer to coach the younger lot. You can also offer taster sessions and apprenticeship programmes to university students. Whether you organise ‘coding days’ at your company or invite school girls to residential courses in engineering, you can make a difference.
Another important step is to make parents aware – because education begins at home. Personally, I have seen that girls who go on to progress in STEM roles are those whose families supported them from a young age.
If a child, whether a boy or a girl, see their parents labelling a job as a ‘man’s job’ or a ‘woman’s job’, it’s natural for them to adopt the same mindset. Let’s eliminate this discriminatory mindset from our society.
Currently, the tech industry is predominantly male-dominated. It doesn’t have to stay this way. Taking small steps to make root-level changes is essential. These early investments in girls can help to attract a more diverse pool of talent in the future. It’s time to incubate more females to join the future-forward world of tech and STEM.
Has your organisation taken any steps to bridge the gender gap? Do you have any more ideas to share? Leave them in the comments below. Your ideas may inspire someone else to take a step in the right direction.
I love staying up-to-date with the latest trends in technology. And I also enjoy writing about them. Did you enjoy this article and want to read more articles like this one?
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