Women in STEM is Good for Business

Category :

Diversity is Good Business

46% of UK workers are women, only 14% of STEM workers are women, what can we do to improve those numbers?
I joined fellow union members and WISE members in London for discussions about how a collaboration of workers, employers, organisations and trade unions can work towards a brighter, more diverse future.

WISE Knowledge Sharing Event on 22 July in London 4-6.30pm,
Hosted by Prospect, the first trade union to join WISE as a corporate member.

The event was focussed on “shared examples of leadership by the union movement to improve the position of women in STEM, as well as examples of unions and employers working in partnership to implement positive changes in the workplace.” Speakers included staff and reps from Prospect, Unite, NPL and Skanska.

Chair: Mike Clancy, General Secretary of Prospect
Speakers: Prospect: Sue Ferns, Deputy General Secretary
Larissa Collins, Prospect representative at the Food and Environment Research Agency
Unite: Gail Cartmail, Assistant General Secretary
Jade Stewart, Shop Steward at Unilever, for Unite
NPL: Fiona Auty, Director of Communications, National Physical Laboratory
Skanska: Peter Raza, Head of Industrial Relations & Dan Forbes-Pepitone, Talent & Capability Director
WISE: Helen Wollaston, Director

Discussion points included Apprenticeships, returnships (apprenticeship style work for returners), scaling up businesses and how important it is that unions are part of this process, and some feedback on what makes STEM workers stay or leave – money isn’t the main thing.

Jade a rep from Unite, shared with us information on the Unilever Apprenticeship package which even included benefits such as a pension scheme and redundancy package over 18months. This process saw the majority of successful applicants complete the apprenticeship and also further retained within the company.

Sue Ferns, Deputy General Secretary for Prospect shared with the attendees the projects Prospect have been working on recently. Some brilliant projects included the “Prospect Pioneers” project which was a calendar released last year promoting Women in STEM roles who were also Prospect members.
Prospect surveyed it’s members and found they had 14000 members who were women working in STEM. When asked what their priorities were the top 3 were – Flexible working hours and working arrangements; Accessible career paths, including multiple paths; and better pay and fairer pay systems that protect standards of living and reward development of competency and skills.
Another survey Prospect have been working with Women In Engineering (WES) on have found women who have stem qualifications, aren’t working in the STEM sectors or using their skills. 60% of respondents felt there were a range of barriers to this, the top being Financial - including cost of childcare (52%), Time – flexible, condensed etc. (27%), Training and Guidance – not enough help and support offered (25%), and Geographical – not able to move for work (16%).
Prospect also has setup Peer mentoring schemes for it’s members and are currently trialing these in collaboration with employers.
Prospect have a “Manifesto for Good Work” which covers the challenges workers, especially their members surveyed, face in their everyday lives. This includes Secure, interesting and fulfilling jobs, Culture based on fairness and trust, Choice and Control over hours, Reward and effort in balance, degree of control over pace of work and environment and Employee voice.

Dan Forbs-Pepitone and Peter Raza from Skanska (the construction company that brought us the M25 refit and the Gherkin building in London) shared their work on diversity and gender balance work with their workers. They carried on the theme that “Diversity is good business sense” and that only with collaboration with workers and trade unions could they improve their reflection of the communities they serve.

Mike Clancy, General Secretary of Prospect reviewed this by saying “Diversity in the workforce is good for it’s members, it’s the right thing to do and good for the economy”.

In the open questions session I responded that it was great that all the employers mentioned in the presentations sounded so supportive and on message, but what would people suggest for those employers who don’t understand the importance of a diverse workforce… or just don’t care.
Answers and suggestions of what to do with unengaged employers included…
Being relentless in asking for what you want
Offer a clear proposal with relevant facts and figures
Using stats like 46% workers are female and yet on 14% of STEM workers are female
Is it a skills problem?
Good efficiency and management when recruiting and sustaining
Being diverse means the company is representing the community
Diversity of workers also means diversity of though and new ideas to deal with challenges
Does it matter to their clients? What would the clients want?
Use case studies from other companies with good practices
NASUWT pointed out the issues with the hidden cost of education, lack of carers advice, can't track data on leavers/returners etc.
Dual career path options - across senior tech and managerial roles to offer more progression options
Suggest recognition structure not just pay to keep staff longer and happier
Role models for diversity and discipline
Mentoring for ultra specific roles
Links with work while out of work – stronger keeping in touch schemes to keep in the loop
Returnships
Alumni schemes - stay friends, exit interview, keep in touch, tracking old employees

There was a great mix of people from Trade unions – both staff and volunteer reps, employers, individuals and WISE members, that were in support of Women in STEM and the WISE Campaign.
It’s the start of a conversation, a collaboration, for the future, where I’d love to see the percentage of STEM female workers, more representative of the working world and closer to the 46% of total UK workers.
Now is the time for employers and unions to work together to support representation of the community in the workforce.