Insight

Opportunities for achieving more gender diversity in STEM – our latest research

By Claudia Pellegrino

Men have always outnumbered women working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). While things have improved, there’s a long way to go to achieve a balanced workforce: women comprise 28 percent of the STEM workforce in the US, and 24 percent in the UK.

It’s an issue we care passionately about. Our award-winning ‘Women in Tech’ network promotes diversity through inspirational learning opportunities and events. And our latest research points to some powerful opportunities and practical steps for organisations to make it easier for women, trans, and non-binary people to work and succeed in STEM.

We carried out quantitative and qualitative research into what people are seeing and experiencing and what they think would make a difference. As well as understanding the state of play, we wanted to use the results, combined with our experience and expertise, to come up with solutions. We consulted mid- to senior-level decision makers and/or business leaders in STEM industries in an online survey across the US and UK, supplemented by in-depth interviews with gender experts, decision and policy makers, and other professionals in STEM businesses.

The story revealed by our results

First, the more positive news. Over half (56 percent) of those surveyed said gender diversity is a top priority for their organisation – on a par with work-life balance.

Seventy-eight percent agreed they’d seen a strong improvement in encouraging and supporting gender diversity and inclusion in STEM roles over the course of their careers. And 80 percent agree a more diverse workforce is crucial to building a better workplace for the future.

Yet there were also concerning findings. Satisfaction with the way things are varies and there’s no agreement on the main barriers to improving gender diversity: 70 percent of respondents believe there are considerable structural barriers hindering progress. Women, on average, express 13 percent lower satisfaction levels than men, junior staff are less content than the most senior staff, and the trans and non-binary community feels neglected in certain companies. What’s more, it seems people often see the problem as someone else’s responsibility.

How leaders can bring about change

We explored the options for bringing improvement – asking respondents about the four main stages of the employee experience: attraction, recruitment, retention, and retraining. That allowed us to identify the actions people believe would be most effective and the simplest to implement at each stage.

Attraction

  • Promote and advertise flexible working opportunities
  • Openly advertise equal and competitive salaries
  • Demonstrate tangible commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I).

Recruitment

  • Remove bias at interview stage
  • Offer women-centric benefits and communicate these during the recruitment process
  • Actively increase awareness of STEM roles among students and adults.

Retention

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

Retraining

  • Increase the provision of on-the-job learning
  • Uplift knowledge and skills with training
  • Be more open to cross-skilling and career change.

In our report, we provide detailed advice on how to put these actions into practice. For example, to attract a wider range of candidates by demonstrating tangible commitment to DE&I (diversity, equality, and inclusion), companies should make the data relating to the gender pay gap available, whether good or bad, providing transparency on how they can make improvements. Our work with The Ocean Race illustrates how having a transparent strategy demonstrates openness to change.

In terms of recruitment, removing bias at interview stage involves having representative and diverse interview panels. So, an important step is establishing a genuinely diverse leadership team. We developed strategies to help the UK Space Agency achieve this.

To improve retention, networks came out as crucial actors in driving positive and impactful change. in our experience, there are three core components to running a successful network. There needs to be a purpose-led strategy, dedicated capacity, and it must be metrics-driven.

On the retraining front, running psychometric tests for existing employees, and holding frequent conversations about skills, can make it easier for your employees and managers to spot opportunities for career change – helping to facilitate more lateral movement of women, trans, and non-binary people into STEM.

Overarching priorities

Learnings from our qualitative research enhance these detailed recommendations. These interviews pinpointed four main issues STEM companies often miss in attempting to improve DE&I. Leaders need to:

  • Look beyond flexible working – it’s not a silver bullet. To be most effective it needs to be personalised, but also combined with the other levers our research identified
  • Make retraining a viable option – women, trans, and non-binary people often fall through the cracks here, so it requires outreach and needs to be flexible
  • Integrate DE&I commitments within strategy – leaders should show they believe gender diversity makes business sense
  • Understand intersectionality – businesses need to consider the impact of any given policy or initiative on all groups.

Find out more

You can read the detailed results and more detail on our recommendations in the full report. For us, diversity is about more than equality and fairness. It’s about creating a positive human future by helping society evolve and by inspiring the next generation. It’s also about having a crucial impact on the global talent gap. And we know diverse teams have a positive impact on a company’s bottom line.

For all these reasons, we want to drive progress. We hope you’ll join our community of interest as we continue to find ways to overcome barriers and create positive change. Please email womenintech@paconsulting.com if you'd like to get involved.

About the authors

Claudia Pellegrino PA business design expert

Explore more

Contact the team

We look forward to hearing from you.

Get actionable insight straight to your inbox via our monthly newsletter.