Lisa Subhash and James Clayton, specialist recruiters within our technology division, recently attended the MK Innovates STEM Festival, celebrating the women who work in these industries.
In the following article, they share what they learned about the current shape of the sector and how we can be effective allies for women in technology.
As specialist technology recruiters, we recognise that the male-dominated nature of the industry is an inescapable fact, and one which needs to be challenged. We were therefore delighted to be in attendance at the MK Innovates STEM Festival which celebrates the women who work in these sectors and discusses what more can be done to encourage a growing female workforce. We heard a number of talks and discussions from female leaders at the forefront of the technology space, sharing both their experiences within the industry, and their insights into its current shape.
Aimee Gibbard, Test Engineer at Red Bull, spoke to the prevailing view of engineering as a ‘man’s role’. Brought up by a single father who worked as a mechanic, Aimee spent a lot of her childhood working with him in their garage. At the age of fourteen, she expressed an interest in becoming a mechanic herself, and her despite receiving general encouragement from her father, she was dismayed by his comment that it wasn’t a women’s industry. She nevertheless studied mechanical engineering at university and began a career at Red Bull through her placement year, joining as one of only five women in the whole company. The number of female employees at Red Bull has since increased dramatically, and they have recently widened their reach through apprenticeship offerings. Nonetheless, the national average of women in a STEM company is currently at only 16% of the staff, raising the major question of why it remains such a minority percentage.
There are a number of factors at play and one major issue, highlighted by Helen Townend of Amey Construction, is the often unsociable and inflexible hours of roles in the industry which discriminate against women who require childcare. The company saw an increase on the national average by having women make up 21% of their workforce, an achievement which they attribute in large part to the introduction of flexible hours and family-friendly policies.
An additional barrier is the psychological difference between men and women’s approaches to job applications. Several speakers shared the same notable statistic that if a woman views a job advert with three skillsets listed, she will feel the need to meet all three in order to apply; a man will apply even if they only meet one. This poses a challenge to us as recruiters in the way that we craft our role specifications; by more intentionally separating out the non-negotiable skillsets from the desirables, we can encourage a greater number of female applicants who may otherwise have been put off a role that there were qualified for.
A third major factor is the prevailing company culture. Helen explained that when working as one of the few women in a construction company, there were often no direct colleagues to speak to about personal matters in the day-to-day, and conversation was dominated by ‘lads’ banter’. The increase in female staff and introduction of personnel to approach about interpersonal issues has been a big step towards an inclusive culture. ABB Robotics Technology have produced ‘Women in STEM’ videos for their website to showcase the career journeys of their staff, also using them during the interview process as live examples of their recruitment approach. Tesla have similarly formed an internal ‘Women of Tesla’ group, with an ambassador to organize events and lead discussions. This type of intentional representation is vital in steering the culture of an organisation.
It was encouraging to see companies as large as Red Bull and Tesla acknowledging and addressing their issues, and all of the organisations we spoke to across the day expressed their need for a greater number of female candidates, even if they weren’t sure how to attract them. Deborah Lewis from NatWest highlighted the unconscious bias which influences everyone to an extent, and therefore how becoming conscious of these issues is the first step to overcoming them.
To be effective allies for women in technology, we need to ensure that continue learning about the issues at play and their potential solutions, and to this end we were excited to also have members of our team attend Karren Brady’s Women in Business & Tech conference in London both yesterday and today. Further to the changes that we can make to our own specifications and practices as a result, we are also in a position to consult with our client organisations to both learn from what they do and share insight; the desire for change is there, and it’s our privilege to play a part in making it a reality.
To discuss how we can support your recruitment needs, contact James Clayton on 020 7557 7667 or email firstname.lastname@example.org