How to retain diverse talent in STEM

It’s well known that attracting and recruiting women, trans, and non-binary people to STEM jobs can be tricky. Hanging on to them can be even harder. Research shows that in high tech industries, the quit rate for women is more than double that of men, at 41 percent compared to 17 percent. To explore how STEM companies can improve the gender balance in the workforce – including a focus on retention – we conducted our own research.

We consulted 300 senior people working in STEM industries across the US and UK, augmented by in-depth interviews with gender experts, decision and policy makers, and other professionals in STEM businesses. We’re using the results to make practical recommendations to help STEM businesses attract, recruit, and retain women, trans, and non-binary people. At the heart of the issue of retention is the need for an inclusive and balanced culture, supported by executive leadership.

Fixing the leaky pipeline

Over half of women in tech leave the industry by the mid-point in their career – double that of men – and leaving fewer women in leadership roles. It would be easy to assume that women are leaving these positions because they don’t like the work itself, but 80 percent of women in science, engineering, and technology report loving their work.

Our research revealed that the common misses preventing women from staying in STEM roles are: sponsorship; tailored benefits; inclusive environments; and allyship. According to our survey respondents and interviewees, the top three actions STEM companies can take in response are:

  1. Build an inclusive and safe culture through networks
  2. Create a supportive and committed leadership team that encourages growth and development
  3. Encourage work-life balance.

So, how can companies do this in practice?

Build an inclusive and safe culture through networks

Networks are a key component to creating an inclusive company culture. Creating a space where similar people can get together, meet, and support one another encourages camaraderie and creates a sense of belonging. There are three elements that make a network effective:

  • Defining a purpose. That could be to nurture talent or to drive change, for example. Based on those goals you can plan targeted activities – focusing on running hackathons and courses, or engaging with HR to launch initiatives
  • Dedicating capacity so it’s not ‘side of desk’. Ideally, employ a community lead whose responsibility is to drive this initiative forward, and steer and support volunteers
  • Measuring the outcomes. Tracking engagement with the network as well as the impact on retention could help identify groups or individuals who feel alienated.

Create a supportive and committed leadership team that encourages growth and development

Senior leadership buy-in is critical for getting new policies and initiatives off the ground. Leaders should be open and listen to what meaningful inclusion looks like from gender diverse communities themselves. Success relies on:

Striving for diverse leadership. Our interviewees said being able to ‘see people like me’ in senior positions had a reaffirming impact and suggested an inclusive culture

Making DE&I a genuine priority – it should be a regular feature on executive committee agendas. And leaders should keep abreast of how policies might need to change. Resources like non-profit Speak Out Revolution can be invaluable – we helped them create a dashboard reflecting people’s lived experiences

Modelling allyship by passing down opportunities to women, trans, and non-binary people, recommending them to others and amplifying their voices in meetings.

Encourage work life balance

Creating a culture that embraces work-life balance and flexible working signals that a company trusts employees and respects their lives outside of work. Employees value STEM organisations that recognise the need for flexible working arrangements outside of caring responsibilities, with trans interviewees stating the importance of being able to take time to attend gender-affirming appointments. Other effective steps include:

  • Actively encouraging people to take advantage of relevant policies
  • Celebrating achievements of people with a range of working arrangements to demonstrate how flexible working, reduced hours, or job sharing, for example, can lead to successful outcomes
  • Showing healthy work-life balance in action – leaders should be open about leaving work to watch a school play or to do some exercise, for example.

Creating a culture to sustain gender diversity

You can find out more about our research in the full report. And, in recent blogs, we’ve explored the recommendations for attracting, recruiting, and retraining more women, trans, and non-binary people.

It’s a cause we’re committed to championing. Our award-winning Women in Tech network promotes diversity through inspirational learning opportunities and events. We hope you’ll join our community of interest as we continue to learn how best to support women, trans, and non-binary people to succeed in STEM roles. Please email: if you'd like to get involved.

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