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Employer brand

Closing the Gender Gap: STEM Recruitment Needs to Change

Clare Hopping

Lindsey G/Flickr Lindsey G/Flickr

A survey recently released by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) highlights the alarming fact that the engineering and IT sectors are still dominated by the male population.

The IET’s latest annual skills survey presented the findings that only 6% of the engineering workforce is represented by women. Various companies and industry bodies in the past five years have been unsuccessful in their attempt to deal with the skills shortage.

Recruiters can use the following actions to address this gender gap:

Work with Schools/Colleges/Apprentice Scheme

Sir James Dyson has addressed the engineering crisis this month in the Telegraph, exclaiming that the national curriculum is inhibiting girls from wanting to join the engineering workforce upon leaving education.

Dyson stated the “need to double the number of engineering graduates…for the next twenty years.” Girls as young as 7 should be encouraged to design and make at both school and home and exposed to key critical reasoning abilities, which are essential skills for a career in engineering.

Recruiters could use this platform to work alongside schools and colleges to provide opportunities for girls and women to become apprentices. The presence of female role ambassadors in schools and colleges would also provide encouragement to pupils who wanted information about the steps they needed to take to have a career in Science Technology Engineering Mathematic (STEM).

Banish Misconceptions/Stereotypes

Research by Girlguiding UK has shown that 62% of 11-21 year old girls believe a career in STEM is just for boys. The general misconception of a career in engineering still portrays it as a picture of dirty overalls and hard hats.

However, at Dyson’s research and development lab, there is a more realistic picture of modern engineering, which blends creativity and science to discover and solve new problems without a dirty overall in sight.

Positive Attitude to Flexible/Part-time Working

The IET, in it's survey, '2013 IET skills survey', discovered just 18% of firms surveyed had a positive attitude towards flexible working, which creates a barrier stopping women from working in IT and engineering sectors. Women are deterred by the lack of positive attitude from some employers to their rights for maternity leave and other statutory benefits.

These types of rights are exclusive to the female population and are required in order for women to experience an achievable work-life balance. A low expectation of flexible working however has seen a sway towards more women choosing to become self-employed IT technicians in the last 10 years.

Equal Opportunities Policy

A dismal 8% of interviewed employers for the IET survey practiced an equal opportunities policy. Mary Jean Amon, a doctoral student at the University of Cincinnati conducted a study to see if there is adequate support for women across the globe pursuing STEM careers.

The study has highlighted that gender stereotypes can lead to ‘unconscious acts of bias that frequently occur’ in the STEM workplace. The paper identified the need for diversity training and the omission of gender stereotypes like ‘conflicting role expectations, feelings of a lack of authority and interpersonal cues indicating gender bias.’

Provide Mentoring

An alarming 16% of interviewed employers for the IET survey provide mentoring for their employees. Mentoring is imperative in sustaining women’s involvement in a predominately male driven sector.

Amon’s survey found that a mentor’s successful feedback was key to their success. It was also more likely for a female to think everything would be OK in their STEM career if they had their mentor’s backing.

Transparency of Pay

BSCWomen, which offers support to women in the Information Systems and Technology community, reported that women are usually discouraged from entering the IT industry as they know they will not earn as much as men working in the same IT role.

BCSWomen found, shockingly, that ‘standing at £640 a week, the media gross weekly rate of pay for women IT specialists is 16% (£120) less than the comparison figure for men working in IT roles.’ Recruiters need to show that the pay is equal for both men and women in order to be able to recruit more female STEM workers.

Recruit/Promote Females

20% of organisations who participated in the IET’s survey admitted that they simply just hired the best candidate for the job regardless of sex.

In a male dominated sector, female candidates will most likely not step forward for a job in the STEM sector so recruiters need to adapt to the sex of the person to get the best out of them during the recruitment campaign.

A combination of favourable working conditions and specific campaigns to encourage diverse groups are steps recruiters can take to provide more support for women entering the STEM industry. However, these improvements are just the start of a long and challenging process.

The gender gap can only be closed once subjects like engineering are introduced earlier on during a girl’s education and the momentum of learning is continual through to University. Structured career paths could potentially benefit the UK economy by £103m per year in the IT industry alone, which is a fact that cannot be ignored.

Clare Hopping

Clare Hopping has been involved in the recruitment of both full-time employees and freelance staff for ten years. She specialises in recruiting staff via social media and digital platforms.