Three ways for STEM organisations to recruit a more diverse workforce

The evidence is clear. With women making up less than 30 percent of the US and UK STEM workforces, there’s a stark gender imbalance. So, we undertook quantitative and qualitative research to explore how STEM companies can attract, recruit and retain more women, trans, and non-binary people.

We consulted 300 senior people working in STEM industries in an online survey across the US and UK. And we carried out dozens of in-depth interviews with gender experts, decision and policy makers, and other professionals in STEM businesses. We’re using the results, combined with our experience and expertise, to make recommendations – and advise on putting them into action. In our last blog, we looked at the practical steps companies can take to attract a more diverse set of candidates in the first place. Here, we explore the opportunities for STEM companies to make their recruitment processes more likely to result in a more even gender balance.

Put time and effort into fairer and more focused recruitment

Companies tend to muddy the water between attracting and recruiting candidates. They follow KPIs such as the number of applications received, and fail to properly invest time and effort in making sure candidates don’t drop out or are unfairly rejected. We also found that interview times and schedules can discriminate against those with caring responsibilities – and that’s likely to have more of an impact on women. Perhaps less obviously, using gamified online assessment exercises can put men at an advantage, as they may have developed a stronger affinity to videogames than women while growing up.

So, the main point is that, even when they attract a diverse set of applicants, companies can’t lose focus. They must create safe interview spaces which encourage women, trans, and non-binary people to join and create a pipeline for the future. According to our research, these are the three actions STEM companies should take, based on being easiest to implement and most impactful:

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

Here’s how to do it:

Remove bias at interview stage

Bias can easily manifest itself in job descriptions and where informal events are held as well as in the interviews themselves. Eliminating bias involves:

  • Rethinking where and how to advertise and describe roles – use women in STEM career websites, and use neutral language in ads and job specifications
  • Making sure interview settings aren’t off-putting. Offices need female-friendly facilities. If you’re yet to make the necessary adjustments to the workplace, offer to meet people initially on their own turf or remotely, and explain the changes you’re making
  • Having diverse interview panels. It helps if people can 'see themselves' in an organisation. The overriding ambition should be to have a genuinely diverse leadership team – as we helped deliver for the UK Space Agency.

Offer women-centric benefits and communicate these during recruitment

Companies should invest in truly understanding the issues impacting women, trans, and non-binary people, and then offer – and advertise – progressive policies which go beyond the basics. More than one third of respondents told us that outlining flexible working hours at recruitment stage would be effective at interview stage. Having explicit benefits relating to time-off for gender transitioning would help, for example. Other progressive thinking includes:

  • Having formal provisions around menopause – allowing leave, paying for HRT, or making workplace adjustments (like fans or breathable uniforms), for example
  • Breaking the taboo around periods by providing wellbeing leave and setting up initiatives with relevant partners (such as affinity networks)
  • Enhancing simple maternity leave policies and offering career breaks or sabbaticals. Combine maternity leave policies with options like stay-in-touch, phased return, or supported return with coaching.

Actively increase awareness of STEM roles among students and adults

Our respondents suggested talent in STEM is frequently 'recycled' with little 'new talent' entering the sector. Partnerships with schools and institutions are key for generating interest, untapping new talent, and recruiting for graduate or junior roles. To do this successfully, it’s important to:

  • Have a broad mix of volunteers at events, so the burden doesn’t always fall on women – and also to showcase diversity in action
  • Create a range of offerings, from panel discussions to code-alongs and hackathons, to appeal to different institutions and audiences
  • Invest in and launch early careers and outreach programmes centred on recruiting LGBTQIA+ candidates. 

Designing recruitment for diversity

You’ll find the full results of our research, capturing the current state of affairs, and more detail on all our recommendations in our main report.

Explore more

Contact the team

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