Women in the STEM sector – why we need more
It’s well documented that there are not enough women qualified, or working in the technology sector. Numerous efforts to get women into the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (known collectively as the STEM sector) have failed. When it comes to STEM sector occupations, women represent only 23% of the workforce. To add insult to injury, the number of women on the boards of STEM sector businesses is significantly less than in any other industry.
So, why is it important that we bridge the gender gap when it comes to the STEM sector? And what can you do to increase the number of women responding to your recruitment drives?
MEN AND WOMEN TOGETHER – GOOD FOR BUSINESS
We made the case for diversity in the workplace in last week’s blog. However you choose to look at it, the business case for diversity is sound as a pound. If a company is gender balanced, it’s 15% more likely to outperform its competitors. Diversity attracts the top talent and plays a key part in retaining it. It enables companies to meet the specific needs of customers within their target market and ensures a commitment to innovation using a wider range of ideas and viewpoints.
When you put these points together, an increase in diversity means an increase in your bottom line. Diversity 1, homogeny 0.
The digital technology sector is growing 2.6 times faster than the UK economy. Whilst such growth is extremely positive, a skills shortage crisis is looming. It’s estimated that by 2020 we’re going to need 2.287 million digitally skilled workers if we’re going to successfully harness the true economic and intellectual value of the sector as a whole.
It’s no longer viable for the STEM sector to appeal only to men. It’s already a sector where attracting, retaining and advancing talent is very difficult. Ruling out a substantial percentage of the talent pool because the industry doesn’t attract females isn’t going to help.
WOMEN – UNTAPPED TALENT
According to a survey by The Guardian, 73% of workers within the tech sector believe that the industry is sexist. That’s a pretty damning statistic. Google recently fired a male employee after he went online to state that women are not as able as men when it comes to technology. Well, he should have Googled it.
Whilst it’s obvious that men and women are physically different, there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that there’s any significant difference in cognitive abilities between the genders. There are many notions as to why women are so woefully underrepresented in the technology industry. Gender stereotypes, social expectations and a lack of flexible working to name just three. Studies have shown however, that one of the biggest problems is that women simply don’t have as much faith or confidence in their abilities as men. They underestimate themselves at every level: in the classroom, in the boardroom and in the workplace.
The technology sector is experiencing significant growth and transformation. It needs employees and leaders who can innovate, inspire and think outside the box. Research shows that women possess more transformational qualities than men, so if the sector is to succeed and sustain, time to recruit female technology leaders is of the essence.
WHY AREN’T WOMEN APPLYING?
If your business doesn’t get enough female applicants, it’s time to look at changing this. Whether you’re a company within the STEM sector or not, it’s always good to ensure that you’re recruitment drives attract the best and the brightest. Here’s how you can do just that.
We already know that companies who have inherent diversity are more likely to attract and retain the top talent. Do you have a reasonable maternity policy as standard? Do you offer flexible working? These things are important to both men and women and will help to break down the social stereotyping that both genders face every day.
Training and education
You might be the most enlightened thinker since Voltaire, but if your recruitment teams don’t follow suit it’s meaningless. Ensure that your HR managers and recruiters are trained in the importance of diversity and inclusion. They must understand the need to close the gender gap and be able to demonstrate their ability to attract a diverse range of candidates.
To steal a line from Julius Caesar, you must not only be diverse; you must be seen to be diverse. Linda Davis, CEO of Next generation Recruitment said it perfectly; having key women in senior leadership roles will positively encourage other females to join an organisation that is supportive of advancing women’s careers, thus increasing overall company growth and productivity.
It’s important that you’re committed to advancing the careers of your female employees. A visibility of female employees would prove beneficial to any woman contemplating a job in the STEM sector.
Diversity is not an area in which you can get away with simply paying lip service. It’s not enough to fill half of your office with men and the other half with women; you have to mean it. As an employer, you must ensure that each and every member of your team feels that their contribution is valued regardless of their gender. If you fail to do this, attracting and retaining talent within the technology sector is going to become even harder.
When it comes to the recruitment of women into the STEM sector, the barriers and problems are deeply entrenched. There aren’t enough young women opting to study the necessary subjects at university and a massive 69% of girls say that they haven’t considered an IT career because they aren’t aware of the opportunities that are available to them.
There are so many amazing opportunities out there for women in the STEM sector. However, when they’re up against out-dated attitudes and gender stereotypes, even getting a foot in the door takes far more energy than it should. Underpinning it all is the fact that women and girls see themselves as less competent when it comes to the STEM sector. For success to come, the rules of the game must change. Because after all, “some leaders, are born women” – Geraldine Ferraro.