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Diversity and Inclusion 2020

Now is an exciting time to work in STEM

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Ruth Blanco

Communications Director, WISE, the campaign for gender balance in STEM

After the challenges of 2020, it is vital to showcase why diversity and inclusion are more important than ever.

Celebrating the contribution of women in STEM

The recent global pandemic highlights the vital role science, technology, engineering and mathematics play in the world today. From scientists working on life-saving tests and vaccines, IT specialists providing technology to allow us to stay in touch, technicians and engineers manufacturing medical equipment, to epidemiologists and data scientists advising the Government. STEM professionals have never been more in the public eye.

In 2019, we reached the significant milestone of 1 million women working in STEM roles in the UK. We can inspire and motivate more girls and women to choose STEM so that they too can make a difference, by sharing stories of women using science and technology in real life situations, such as saving lives at risk during a pandemic.

Working together to reach girls

This year we launched our 1 million women campaign, putting faces and stories to the women in the UK STEM workforce. Women from all over the UK joined the campaign by uploading a photo and a few words about their job which we shared on social media.

Last year, WISE also hosted STEM Accord, a partnership to co-ordinate STEM outreach activities to reach more girls and students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Via our involvement in a Gender Balance in Computing project, led by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we will train women working in tech to run a tailored computing version of My Skills My Life in 84 primary schools across England.

Only by working in partnership, evaluating the impact of our programmes and scaling up those initiatives which are proven to make a positive difference will we make progress at the scale and pace required.

In 2019, we reached the significant milestone of 1 million women working in STEM roles in the UK. We can inspire and motivate more girls and women to choose STEM so that they too can make a difference.

Ten steps to transform organisational culture

We must also support employers in developing workplace cultures where everyone is made to feel welcome, supported and able to fulfil their potential.

WISE Ten Steps address the underlying issues for women in a traditionally male-dominated organisational culture. We offer practical advice and guidance to employers, based on real examples, on the steps they can take to transform their culture.

Organisations may be doing one or two of the right things – what makes a real difference is to take a systematic approach throughout the business, led from the top. Those companies that regularly benchmark against other organisations and use our Ten Steps framework to improve their recruitment and retention programmes show an average improvement of 30% in their diversity and inclusion efforts and more senior women in leadership roles.

We have seen an encouraging growth in returner and retraining programmes from employers which attract a lot of interest from women and work well for employers seeking to attract and retain talented people.

We would like to see training programmes available to women across the UK who would like to move into a more technical role – which means connecting education, training and work placements on a national scale.

In the long term we need to improve the relevance and appeal of computing to girls at an early age. In the short term, to fill immediate skills shortages, we should offer more accessible pathways for women to retrain to work in technology. Technology qualifications open doors to work anywhere and provide exciting opportunities to work on projects that have such a fundamental impact on all our lives – whether it be a global pandemic or climate change.

Retraining is the only way to fill skills shortages in high growth sectors such as technology, for example. Women represent just 16% of IT professionals in the UK; a figure that has remained static for ten years and yet technology roles today account for more than 25% of core STEM roles.

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