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International Women’s Day: How To Find and Retain Women in STEM Fields

March 6, 2017, 9:38 PM UTC
Indian Business, Finance And Economy
Photograph by Mint Hindustan Times via Getty Images

In a 2016 study, we looked at the LinkedIn profiles of millions of women skilled in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math to get a better understanding of their career paths and movement in the field. The results highlighted a challenge that many companies face: women in STEM roles are particularly hard to find and even tougher to keep.

According to LinkedIn data, women only hold 23% of STEM roles worldwide, but the opportunities for women in STEM are steadily increasing. With a growing pool of opportunities and a limited number of candidates, business leaders have their work cut out for them. However, we see a few opportunities to close the gender gap and attract more STEM women. Here’s a look:

Showcase growth opportunities

Our data shows that the proportion of women in STEM drops the higher they go in seniority. As an industry, this shows we’re not doing enough to ensure women maintain steady career growth or to support them as they face new and different challenges.

To address this concern, take the time to train both your recruiting and management teams on how to support and deliver growth opportunities for women in your company. It’s also important to ensure female employees understand that you support flexibility in times of need. Having to take time as a new mom, for example, shouldn’t cause concern that your career growth may suffer. Make sure you’re articulating company policies and ensuring that the broader team is both aware and supportive of these natural life moments. When you as a manager show support, you’ll actually increase loyalty and employee engagement.

In addition, invest in tools and education for recruiters and managers alike to understand their roles in the recruitment, support and development of women employees. Unlike their male counterparts, women tend to not ask for mentors or sponsors. As their manager, you can ensure they can get both. Beyond the mentor, we also suggest that you consistently reinforce development opportunities and demonstrate appreciation for their work. As a manager, I choose to listen and share with my team both formally and casually. We meet every quarter to discuss performance and career aspirations, but I’m checking in daily, at the coffee machine or in the hallway, congratulating on personal and professional milestones. This will help with both attrition and engagement, as more than a quarter of women in STEM only see themselves at a company for one year or less.

Ensure your company culture highlights a workplace of belonging

We’ve all had the discussion of diversity and inclusion at our companies. But being included isn’t enough. The idea of belonging adds another dimension in which employees feel like they can be their authentic selves and are essential to the team.

So how do you build a culture of belonging? One idea, dare I say it, is to encourage women to be women. Be their authentic self; whatever that may mean. In my case, I’ve worked in many male dominated companies in the tech space – sometimes, the sole female on a team. To be “heard” or to ensure you were present during conversations, it wasn’t unusual to see my peers emulate masculine traits, strive to be more “assertive”, and even learn golf when it wasn’t their passion. Instead of silently encouraging women to be something they’re not, we should provide support and encourage authenticity to help build well-rounded, thoughtful teams.

Build trust, early

Women don’t want more, we just want fair. Whether it’s fair pay, chance of promotion, maternity leave or access to strong mentors, most women want to know and feel like the company has our back.

Take pay, for example. When extending an offer to a female candidate, your recruiting team needs to ensure compensation is comparable to the candidate’s male counterparts. Our survey revealed women are more likely to get a 10% increase when they take a new job, while men are more likely to get a 30% increase. While negotiation tactics are normal for all conversations, do your part to ensure gender pay equality, upfront.

You also can create mentoring and advocacy programs for women in your business to meet with female peers and colleagues. Encourage the development of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and other networking events that bring the women of your company together.

Overall, as an industry, we have a responsibility to showcase that our women engineers, scientists and mathematicians matter. That their work matters. When we asked women in STEM what motivates them at work, they were less motivated by money or status than men were, and more focused on purpose. Show women how their work fits into a greater purpose, encourage open communication and transparency and invite your STEM women to share their experiences with colleagues. After all, your best advocates are your happy employees.

Pat Wadors is chief human resources officer and senior vice president of LinkedIn’s global Talent Organization.