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Diversity is hitting the headlines everywhere, and STEM is frequently criticised for its lack of diverse teams. Should STEM organisations be concerned?
In the 18th century, a woman called Mary Anning discovered several fossils that would change the way scientists thought about natural history. Her observations were the foundations for Darwin’s theory of evolution. But, because she was female, Mary was was never allowed to join the Geological Society of London, nor to pursue a career in science.
While gender diversity in STEM has dramatically improved in the last 300 years (there have been 22 women winners since 2001), diversity in STEM is still a thorny topic.
The World Economic Forum reports that “just 3% of students joining information and communication jobs across the globe are women”. A The Lancet report from 2020 showed that, in the UK, women only accounted for 24% of the core STEM workforce and occupied just 16·4% of tech roles in 2019. While it rises to 5% for mathematics ad 8% of engineering manufacturing, and construction courses, these figures are still painfully low. Especially when the actual number of women working in STEM only sits at 22% globally according to stemwomen.co.uk.
These figures become starker when you consider that many STEM sectors and businesses are facing an ongoing skills shortage. Tech is changing too fast for most businesses to keep their workforce up to speed, and while we currently have many people outside of work, it’s harder to get people for these specific types of roles.
It’s getting critical
This becomes an even clearer issue for business-critical roles like those in AI, robotics, data analysis, and other emerging industries. While growing and developing businesses are crying out for skilled talent to fill these roles, there aren’t enough specialist graduates or experienced workers to do so. Because these jobs didn’t even exist ten years ago, it’s no surprise they’re currently under-skilled.
One thing that 2020 taught us is that there’s a lack of tech skills within our workforces. Many people have struggled with operating tech from home and “YOM” (you’re on mute) became the professional buzzword of the year. With a lack of gender diversity in STEM and a skills gap to close, would attracting more diversity into these workplaces benefit everyone? It could definitely go some way towards it…
How to attract women?
These industries need to become attractive to women before they can begin to attract them. This means working with educational establishments to dramatically improve the number of women going into STEM at university.
It means businesses looking at their compensation and making it more attractive to women. With the world of work changing dramatically over the last year or so, companies are in a much better place to offer flexible working and working from home. They should also be looking at better maternity packages and better healthcare.
It means paying a lot more than lip-service to diversity in the workplace.
Many respected studies have shown that diversity in STEM isn’t just something we should be practising, it’s something we need to practise. One report by Scientific American says that diversity in a workplace makes the whole workforce smarter by altering views on subjects and fostering innovations.
All of which can help lead to a healthier bottom line. A 2007 study by business professors Cristian Deszö of the University of Maryland and David Ross of Columbia University showed that “female representation in top management leads to an increase of $42 million in firm value.”
And a 2020 study by McKinsey found that businesses who were in the top percentile for gender diversity were 21% more likely to have financial returns above the median.
The way forward
Many businesses aren’t sure where to start with adding diversity to their hiring process, or how to include it in long-term talent strategies. The process can be a daunting one to embark on. If everyone who is applying or being found for roles looks the same sounds the same, and acts the same, you could feel like you have no choice but to hire them. However, if diversity is truly on your radar, that can’t be accepted. Whether it’s sourcing the talent for you, or conducting a study on the diversity in your area to provide insightful and in-depth knowledge, there are outside companies that can help.
At Solutions Driven, 41% of all our hires are diverse. We operate blind short/long lists for many of our clients and use Recruitment Process Intelligence to ensure businesses are looking in the right places for diverse talent.