The lack of women currently working in STEM industries is no secret. In fact, it’s an issue that continues to have its fair share of coverage, particularly as our reliance on technology, engineering and science industries has increased in recent years. As a spotlight has been placed firmly on the issue, organisations within these industries have started to take action by introducing new goals and initiatives designed to entice women to enter their workforce.
Thanks to these initiatives and a more proactive approach by these STEM organisations, slow yet steady progress is being made. Tech organisations have seen an increase of 27% in their female managerial hires over the past five years since implementing more gender equality into their recruitment process. If sciences, mathematics and engineering organisations follow their lead and continue to give women the encouragement they need, surely the issue will be dealt with in no time. Or will it?
Even though positive headway has been made, there is a new challenge for STEM industries. Organisations may be offering more opportunities for women to enter the STEM workforce to pursue a career. The challenge now is to retain them.
Several reports into the retention of female talent in STEM has discovered that one in five women leave the workforce, despite holding relevant engineering, science, mathematical and technology degrees. Its estimated that 40% of female engineers will leave the field or never enter it at all and women in tech roles have been found to quit their jobs at twice the rate that their male counterparts do.
So why are women leaving these industries in their droves? The reasons vary considerably. From unpaid maternity leave to considerable gender pay gaps, many women feel they have no choice but to look for job opportunities elsewhere. As only 12% of STEM workers are female, being in a highly male-dominated industry can also be off-putting to many.
Being unable to retain this skilled female talent combined with the low numbers applying for STEM roles is a major problem. If the UK wants to remain globally competitive in STEM industries, it needs to increase its workforce to keep up with demand or face losing out to countries who can. But it’s not all about meeting demand. Research has proven that organisations that have an even ratio of male and female workers are more likely to experience increased productivity and innovation. So STEM industries are effectively missing out on being more successful by not having more women in their ranks.
So what can be done to encourage more women to stick it out in STEM? As today is Women in Engineering day, we thought we would share some pearls of wisdom to help you not only entice more women to your organisation, but also to help you hold onto them too.
Implement a mentor scheme
Despite great strides being made in promoting more women in leadership roles in recent years, the harsh reality is that there are still more male executives and founders in STEM than female. This lack of female role models has been found to be a major barrier to women, as they feel they have nobody relatable who they can aspire to be like or who might have had similar experiences within the industry. By encouraging your female employees to mentor your newest female talent, you’re effectively bridging this gap and showing them that women can succeed in STEM.
Believe it or not, employees who participated in a mentoring scheme have a retention rate that is 20% higher than those who did not. So if you want to retain the female talent you’ve got, it’s clear that setting up a mentoring scheme that brings your female workforce together should be at the top of your to-do list.
Empower your workforce and give them a voice
A lack of growth opportunities, a negative company culture or a lack of feedback sessions can all be major factors as to why so many women walk away from STEM. So if you want to retain amazing female talent, you need to make it clear that your organisation wants to empower them. Create a culture that they love to be a part of and give them plenty of opportunities to share their ideas on processes and changes they would like to see happen.
But don’t stop there. Encourage them to be a part of that change whether it’s offering more training or putting them in charge of organising out of office team building events. Here at Deltra, we’ve found that we learn far more about one another during our regular team events and get-togethers than during our office hours. This has helped us to create an inclusive company culture where everyone is encouraged to get to know each other on a more personal level. Don't be afraid to shout about all the amazing things you and your team get up to outside of the office, as well as the stuff you do inside.
Promote flexibility within your organisation
This might seem like an obvious perk that you can offer your employees to retain them. But flexibility has been found to be one of the biggest must-haves for women in particular as they search for potential jobs. Some of your female employees might have a young family, a long commute to and from work or a health condition that can prevent them from working 9-5. Giving them the option to choose whether they want to work remotely on a full-time basis or just for a couple of days each week if that better suits their personal situation and their productivity.
Flexibility can also be promoted in other ways besides location and working hours. Give your employees the freedom to get involved in different projects and encourage them to do things that are outside of their job descriptions. This will show your female employees in particular that you want to help them to develop their skillsets and take on new responsibilities which could help them to gain a promotion in future. This is a highly appealing opportunity that not many of your female STEM employees would be able to turn down.
There’s no one size fits all solution that will instantly compel women to stay with your STEM organisation. It will take time before the results of your new retention methods come into full force and there’s still a long way to go before women working and staying in STEM roles is the norm. So be willing to persevere and more importantly, listen and give the women working in your organisation the acknowledgment and support they need. A simple thank-you for all their hard work could be the difference between them staying and going.