Prospect and IET join forces for women in science and engineering

Prospect and IET to draw up guidance to help companies recruit and retain women scientists and engineers

Prospect and the Institution of Engineering and Technology have joined forces to draw up guidance to help companies recruit and retain more women engineers and scientists

Women and men from a range of STEM areas came together to pool their collective knowledge and experience at a joint Prospect and IET event in London in early March.

Attendees looked at how selection practices affect women’s progress in STEM careers, who controls them and who monitors the outcomes. They then drew up a list of what action is needed and by whom.

The discussion will be taken forward by a joint working group which for the first time has representatives from government, trade unions, industry and professional bodies. The group has pledged to come up with practical guidance to help more companies address this significant problem.

Change is good for men too

The message from Meg Munn, MP for Sheffield Heeley, was “Things can happen and things can change”.

She highlighted Prospect’s Raising our sights document which sets out the top three things employers need to do: more flexible working hours and working arrangements; accessible career paths and better pay systems.

“When organisations change to accommodate women, it also helps men. We know this has worked in other areas, it’s now about the how”, she said.

Naomi Climer, IET’s first female president elect and president of Sony Media Cloud Services, said lots of small steps will make the difference.

Her suggestions included: placing job ads in women’s magazines; looking at the language used in job ads; measuring everything; reviewing processes for unconcious bias; looking at whether your workplace culture is family friendly; banning interruptions during meetings and creating shadow roles.

She urged delegates to press their employers to check their processes for unconscious bias.

Progress at the Met Office

Weather forecaster, Helen Roberts talked about progress in the Met Office.

Helen said the ‘glass ceiling’ at the Met Office used to be at deputy chief forecaster level. A woman was appointed at this level early in 2015 and just this month, two more were appointed.

There is now a “better balance within the Met Office” she added. This was down to small increments including:

  • encouraging people to become STEM ambassadors – there are now 129 in the Met Office
  • inspiring and encouraging students at a young age through its annual, science summer camps
  • an annual employee attitude survey with questions about how people feel
  • active continuing professional development. People are asked annually about the direction they want to take.
  • a network offering help and advice for new parents
  • regular contact with women taking a career break.

On recruitment, Gordon Hutchinson, Prospect branch secretary at the Met Office, said things had changed significantly for the better. The previous practice of all-male interview panels and aggressive questions tended to favour men. Interviews are much more rounded with questions more focused on what candidates can bring to the job, he said.

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said evidence showed that organisations perform better when they are more diverse. “We need good workplace practice in general, not just for women”.

Peter stressed the importance of measuring progress to create better understanding within organisations and reinforce good practice: “What gets measured gets done”, he added.

He said organisations need to create better cultures and train their line managers. Better careers advice, bringing business closer to education and promoting different routes into work were also needed.

Miranda Kirschel, from Nuclear at Atkins, cited a POWERful Women survey in which 61% of respondents believed there were sound commercial reasons for having diverse teams.

She highlighted a male champions of change campaign in Australia which called for more decent powerful men to step up beside women in building a gender equal world.

Anne Jenkins, head of diversity at BAE Systems, described some of the actions her organisation has taken:

  • looking for bias in the imagery used in recruitment campaigns
  • running sessions for men to help them understand the barriers and challenges facing women
  • a comprehensive schools programme
  • doing more work on agile ways of working
  • visible role models
  • running a diversity inclusion week.

“Health and safety is now in the DNA of the organisation. We need to adopt that approach for diversity inclusion”, she concluded.

Myths around women in STEM

Helen Woolaston, director of campaign group WISE, outlined the myths surrounding women in STEM:

  • women’s brains are wired differently
  • women don’t apply for jobs in SET
  • women lack confidence
  • it costs more to employ women
  • women won’t fit in
  • the hours and travelling make it unsuitable.
  • it’s ‘not for people like me’

She suggested talking about the attributes of people who are good at science.

In a report for WISE, sponsored by Network Rail, Professor Averil Macdonald recommended focusing on the types of people who succeed in science, technology and engineering – using adjectives to describe their personalities and aptitudes, rather than the jobs themselves.

Just by changing the images in its graduate programme brochure, Network Rail saw a big change in the quality and demographic of applicants.

She said focusing on attributes was more relevant to girls who don’t relate to images of engineers.

10 steps pave the way

WISE and its corporate members have produced 10 steps to promote women in STEM:

1. Understand the starting point and put plans in place to improve performance and monitor progress.

2. Educate leaders and give them accountability for change.

3. Change mindsets by challenging bias and sexism whenever and wherever it occurs

4. Be creative in job design.

5. Make flexible working a reality for all employees.

6. Increase the transparency of opportunities for progression.

7. Sponsor talented women, giving them the same exposure as men and support to develop their career.

8. Demonstrate to women that we want to retain them through career breaks and beyond.

9. Treat the retention of women as we would any other issue affecting our core business.

10. Share learning and good practice with our industry partners.

Helen’s message to delegates was to inspire others by: reviewing recruitment campaigns, challenging myths and assumptions, adopting the ten steps, measuring the impact and nominating good practice for a WISE award.