Female engineer at BAE Systems

Career progression and values key to achieving gender balance in STEM

Image credit: BAE Systems

WISE - the non-profit organisation which campaigns for gender equality in science, engineering and other technical professions - has advised employers to establish a virtuous circle of attention, retention and progression to improve gender balance in STEM roles. Its recommendations are based on the results of a survey which finds that women in STEM jobs highly value organisations which share their values, commit to inclusivity, and are transparent about career progression.

Women represent just under a quarter of the core STEM workforce and 17 per cent of the tech workforce: a figure that has barely shifted for a decade. According to a survey, conducted for WISE, of 400 women already working in STEM roles, transparency around career progression is a vital factor in supporting women in technical professions.

“I am encouraged to see many employers today actively focusing on attracting more women into STEM roles,” said Kay Hussain, CEO of WISE. “However, it is not enough to simply recruit women. An inclusive environment is essential to help retain them and enable them to progress to the most senior levels.

“In a WISE survey conducted earlier this year, 90 per cent of respondents said that transparency of progression was important to them. Women are more likely to want to work for an organisation when they can see other women in senior roles and where opportunities for progression are justly visible and accessible.”

The survey identified strong support for professional networks, flexible working, and training and retraining opportunities among women in STEM, with 83, 72 and 82 per cent considering them important to career progression, respectively. However, 40 per cent of respondents said that had not had opportunities to retrain to move into different roles since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and 53 per cent reported reduced opportunities for career progression.

Almost all survey respondents (93 per cent) said it was important that their organisation shares their values and 90 per cent said it is important that their organisation is committed to inclusivity, with factors such as reporting and closing the gender pay gap also considered attractive.

WISE is advising employers to consider the following best practice to improve the recruitment, retention and progression of women:

  • Transparency when advertising career progression opportunities.
  • Applying external recruitment standards to internet recruitment and promotion.
  • Creating robust recruitment and progression policies for all hiring managers.
  • Acknowledging and using the transferable skills of employees.
  • Including career progression discussions in annual reviews.
  • Providing opportunities for applicants to talk directly to the hiring manager to support cross-departmental applicants and allow discussions around transferable skills and retraining.
  • Introducing a career development programme or network to provide opportunities for women to find mentors, grow in confidence, learn new skills, and plan their career progression.

Hussain added: “Adopting a transparent approach to progression demonstrates fairness and equity for all, which ultimately lets your employees know they are all equally valued and the organisation is committed to supporting everyone to fulfil their potential.”

Last year, the UK government acknowledged the under-representation of women in engineering, following the publication of a report conducted by WISE and the Royal Academy of Engineering. The report found that just 12 per cent of engineers in the country are women and they earn around 11 per cent less than their male colleagues due to under-representation in senior roles.

The report also revealed that 57 per cent of female engineers drop off the register of professional engineers by the age of 45, compared to just 17 per cent of their male counterparts.

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