The Ten Steps for sustaining the pipeline of female talent in science, technology, engineering and manufacturing (STEM)
To sustain the pipeline of female talent in the STEM sector, Chairs and CEOs will:
1. Understand the starting point and put plans in place to improve performance and monitor progress
Surprisingly few organisations have robust metrics describing the recruitment, retention, development and engagement of female talent. Without this data it’s almost impossible to measure progress or lack of. It’s equally important to know where you are heading. The most confident and ambitious organisations are setting public targets for the representation of women at senior and Board levels and in technical roles throughout the organisation (eg within the engineering workforce). And whether they chose to use targets or not, more companies need to be explicit about who is responsible and accountable for progress.
2. Educate leaders and give them accountability for change
Tell people why you are doing this and how it will benefit the business. Managers may need support to lead change. Some companies run reverse mentoring programmes for senior leaders, where Executives are mentored by a talented female about the career challenges facing ambitious women in their company. In other companies Executives are accountable for progress on a particular aspect of diversity, or sponsor diversity networks, for instance.
3. Change mindsets by challenging bias and sexism whenever and wherever it occurs
We recognise people will look to those at the top of the organisation to lead by example. Many organisations are taking action to address unconscious bias at an individual level – which is a great starting point. But other types of bias need challenge too. As leaders, we will not tolerate remarks, “banter” or other behaviour which shows a lack of respect for women or any other group. Some companies set up a confidential hotline or other process as a safety net to make sure that people feel able to report incidents of unacceptable behaviour whenever it occurs. We will review our systems and processes to eliminate unintentional bias, starting with the appointments process to senior roles. We will not accept all male shortlists, to make it clear that we are serious about change.
4. Be creative in job design
We have identified that some science, technology and engineering managers have fixed ideas about the kind of person needed to do a job – or the design of a job, or the way in which a job should be done – all based on how it’s been done in the past. This can inadvertently exclude people who do not fit a traditional profile from applying or being considered for a role. We will encourage a more open-minded, creative approach to job design from our managers to drive different outcomes.
5. Make flexible working a reality for all employees
Most organisations have flexible working policies in place but in reality all employees do not feel able to ask to work on an agile or flexible basis, without fear of jeopardising their career prospects. This needs to change, so that all employees (male and female) feel confident in asking for flexibility at work – and most can presume their request for flexibility will be granted.
6. Increase the transparency of opportunities for progression
Women and others not in the "in-group" in an organisation may not be aware of the opportunities available for progression, if they do not have access to the right networks, or a sponsor, or are unable or unwilling to invest time in the politics of self-promotion. Leaders should push for greater transparency about development opportunities, juicy projects, stretch assignments – and invite women and other talented people from under-represented groups to put themselves forward.
7. Sponsor talented women, giving them the same exposure as men and support to develop their career
Some women seek out women-only activities like networks and women’s development programmes. At other times and in other companies what women want and need is individual career development support that takes into account their experience as a woman, but where this doesn’t define them. Beware of making assumptions though, and find out from women themselves what support they need to succeed.
There are talented women working at all levels in the STEM sector – but they are often hidden away, lacking visibility and profile, and their careers can quickly lose momentum. Prevent this by ensuring talented women – like talented men - have a senior sponsor, mentor or coach, and encourage them to talk about their experiences, inspiring others in their turn.
8. Demonstrate to women that we want to retain them through career breaks and beyond
Let talented people know you want to retain and develop them – and follow words with actions particularly for those returning from parental leave or other absences when they may be feeling exposed and uncertain about what lies ahead in their personal and professional lives.
9. Treat the retention of women as we would any other issue affecting our core business
A single action from this list will make some difference. Action on all ten points will be a game changer. Develop and agree a strategic, structured approach as you would for any other business improvement project.
10. Share learning and good practice with our industry partners
Retaining talented women in one organisation benefits the whole industry. Sustaining the pipeline of female talent in STEM won’t be resolved by Chairs and CEOs acting alone. The solution lies in companies, suppliers, communities, employees and their representatives, policy makers, regulators, individual male and female champions all playing a role in making change happen. A more diverse pool of talent at senior levels will benefit the industry as a whole. Now is not the time for competition, but for collaboration.