Retraining’s role in closing the STEM gender diversity gap

There are barriers throughout the STEM employment journey for women, trans, and non-binary people – resulting in a lack of gender diversity. We’ve recently explored the problems in attracting, recruiting, and retaining a diverse workforce – and identified practical ways to overcome them. Here, we put the spotlight on retraining. It’s often overlooked as a strategy to close the gender gap but, focused on the right roles and with enough flexibility, could be an extremely powerful force for change.

We consulted 300 senior people in STEM industries across the US and UK, supplemented by in-depth interviews with gender experts, decision and policy makers, and other STEM professionals. Taken together with our experience and expertise, the results point to a range of steps organisations can take to achieve a more gender-balanced workforce.

Harnessing untapped potential

Some core issues emerged from our research to inform STEM companies’ approach to retraining. Firstly, retraining shouldn’t be seen as a mechanism to ‘improve’ or ‘fix’ women, trans, and/or non-binary people. Companies also shouldn’t imply there’s anything wrong with current performance – but be clear it’s about equal opportunities, creating equity, and harnessing untapped potential.

Retraining also needs to focus on the right roles. Our qualitative interviewees mentioned that women often work in the fastest declining tech roles, like system administrators or programmer analysts. Retraining should focus on how these individuals can step into future roles as product managers, machine learning engineers, and artificial intelligence experts. Thirdly, any and all training needs to be as flexible as possible – to fit in with people’s part-time or other flexible working arrangements.

We’re big champions of training. As well as being involved with external courses, we’ve expanded our in-house Women in Tech curriculum to ensure it’s accessible to the broadest possible group. Here, it’s important to have distinct and measurable frameworks: career development pathways with clear objectives, metrics, and modes of engagement. And according to our research results, these are the top three actions STEM companies should take:

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

Here’s how to put them into practice.

Increase the provision of on-the-job learning

This was considered most effective by 35 percent of respondents, and as easy to deliver by 58 percent. On-the-job training is a convenient, efficient way of learning that doesn’t require additional resources from the employee. But to be effective, companies need to:

  • Provide structured opportunities with objectives and metrics. Without a framework, respondents felt people were less likely to engage
  • Make sure it’s a positive experience – too much pressure and criticism create barriers
  • Make the effort to reach people less likely to put themselves forward. Some lack the confidence to engage, especially if they’re in a less well-represented group.

Uplift knowledge and skills with training

Thirty-two percent of respondents considered this most effective, with 49 percent seeing it as easy to deliver. Training on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) will result in better access to career development and technical training for women, trans, and non-binary people. Successful strategies include:

  • Investing in DE&I training for leadership to have a positive impact for women, trans, and non-binary people in general
  • Getting the best value from any external training by ensuring people share their learning with colleagues, and by using platforms which allow them to leverage existing courses
  • Designing transparent policies for cost-sharing so employees are more likely to invest in themselves – 50:50 splits, or salary sacrifice schemes, for example.

Be more open to cross-skilling and career change

This was considered most effective by 34 percent of respondents, and as easy to deliver by 47 percent. Our respondents suggest companies can be short-sighted when it comes to seeing and facilitating opportunities for ‘repurposing’ people or attracting people from other sectors. More imagination on this front would help with attracting and retaining more women, trans, and non-binary people. It’s important for companies to:

  • Understand which skills from one sector or job might be easily transferred to another within STEM – for example, the skills an accountant has are relevant to data analytics
  • Have ongoing conversations around skillsets and consider regular psychometric testing to allow talent mapping. This could generate new ‘bespoke’ career path options – a win-win for individuals and employers
  • Provide more support to people returning to work or transferring from other industries. That involves online training, providing mentors, and using resources available from networks or professional associations.

Bringing about change

You can read the full results of our research, which provide a picture of the current state of play, and more detail on all our recommendations, in the main report. We care passionately about gender diversity in STEM, as evidenced by our award-winning ‘Women in Tech’ network.

We’ll continue to investigate the best ways to leverage training and retraining as tools for encouraging and supporting women, trans and non-binary people to have successful careers in STEM. And we’d be interested to hear from you if you’d like to join our community of interest. Please email

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