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British Science Week

  • Publish Date: Posted about 1 month ago
  • Author:by Jade Gallagher

British Science Week is a ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering, and maths. It’s an excellent time to shine the spotlight on STEM careers, particularly the diversity that has positively impacted the sector in recent years. ‘Smashing stereotypes’ is a focal point in this year’s celebration, and we’d like to take this opportunity to talk about the recent changes in the Engineering, Manufacturing and Technical (EMT) sector, which at NRG is headed by Managing Consultant Stephanie Foley.

Steph is on the frontline talking to both clients and candidates, which gives her a unique insight into recruitment, from the changes in company culture to candidate concerns and what they’re looking for in a role.

Times are Changing in STEM

These are fields typically dominated by men, but there has been a movement of women into STEM roles in recent years. We’ve experienced a noticeable shift in the diversity of candidates applying for roles. There’s also been a notable change in company behaviour regarding the importance of diversity and inclusion, where it’s higher on hiring managers’ recruitment agenda.

Talent shortages are a concern across most industries, but the EMT sector has faced significant challenges and skills shortages for years, which has led employers to consider their recruitment strategies and how best to find – and retain – the best talent. This is why a company’s Talent Value Proposition (TVP) - the promise made to candidates – is taking centre stage, and more companies are turning to recruitment marketing to manage their employer brand and communicate the values and benefits of joining the team.

Consequently, casting the net as wide as possible and actively encouraging applications from those often overlooked in the sector is crucial.

Candidates First: Adapting for a Diverse Workforce

Candidates in 2024 are a lot more discerning about where and how they spend the majority of their week. There is a lot more attention placed on company policies and how well they are enforced and supported; maternity and childcare leave, for example, which disproportionately affects women, may be a concern for those considering a role in the sector. Implementing these policies is effectively welcoming women to apply. Companies that assess the needs of their diverse workforce and adapt, enabling them to do their job without barriers and discrimination, is one that will attract talent over the long-term. Naturally, everyone wants to work in a safe environment that promotes their best interests. Equally, learning and development opportunities as well as mentorship programmes are becoming increasingly prevalent to attract ambitious applicants.

However, it’s important to consider the pipeline of qualified and interested candidates and where it all begins.

Breaking Barriers for Women and Girls

According to the UK government website, there was an almost 30% increase in girls starting STEM A-levels in England between 2009 and 2020, and between 2011 and 2020, the number of women accepted to full-time STEM undergraduate courses increased by 50.1% in the UK. But in 2020 women only made up 29.4% of the STEM workforce in the UK.

This is growing incrementally, but why is notable change taking so long?

Some of the challenges faced by women in STEM:

  1. Societal stereotypes: Traditional gender stereotypes often discourage girls from pursuing STEM interests from a young age. Dispelling these stereotypes and fostering an inclusive environment is crucial.

  2. Workplace bias: Women in STEM careers may encounter bias, discrimination, or microaggressions in the workplace. Creating a culture of diversity and inclusion is essential for fostering a supportive work environment.

  3. Lack of representation: Limited visibility of successful women in STEM can hinder young girls' aspirations. Highlighting the achievements of women in these fields can serve as inspiration and motivation.

If the adage “you can’t be what you can’t see” is true, this progression is a step forward for the industry and STEM careers. More women in STEM roles means more visibility, which will have a trickled-down effect on girls in school who will see varied career possibilities.

Skills such as problem-solving, curiosity, teamwork and collaboration are certainly not lacking in girls and women at any age.

The Future of STEM

The barriers above have impacted the number of women currently working in the sector, but there are some encouraging numbers to be found that indicate positive change.

For example, research shows that the number of women in engineering roles is growing – women now make up 16.5% of all engineers, which represents an increase of over 25% since 2016. 

EMT Managing Consultant Steph Foley says, “It’s been great to see more women applying for these roles, and to successfully place them in environments where they’re clearly thriving. It paves the way for more women in leadership, which the industry needs. It has been a boys’ club for a long time, but there are also lot of men who are very supportive and welcoming of these changes.”

Diversity and inclusion in recruitment is important, not only to open up the talent pool but also to build a team that is reflective of the population. The gender divide is still there, but there has been a lot of progress over the last several years, and a lot of national initiativesto encourage girls and women to consider careers in STEM, which has resulted in the needle moving in the right direction. Inclusive recruitment practices essentially remove barriers and make roles more accessible, casting greater visibility on policies that will positively impact women, for example around childcare and menopause.

There’s more work to be done, and Steph is passionate about advocating for diversity and inclusion when talking to clients and candidates.

Whether you’re a candidate looking for your next role, a client looking for your next hire, or you’re looking for consultancy or guidance on inclusive recruitment practice, get in touch with Steph here.