It is common knowledge that STEM faces a severe skills shortage and that employers need to put much more effort into recruiting and retaining people with the required skills. Longer term, the challenge is to nurture a more diverse generation of employees and leaders to create and nurture the leadership pipeline of the future.
Earlier this week, speakers such as Jen Goodison, CTO Engineering Platforms, HSBC, Joseph Castle, CEO of IT solutions partner Tecnologika and Lisa Holmes, director of specialist technology recruiter Uniting Ambition took part in a series of panels, groups brainstorming sessions and fireside chats to share their insights and expertise on increasing STEM diversity and creating a culture of inclusion where diversity thrives.
The event kicked off with HSBC’s Jen Goodison outlining some of the ways her team is trying to employ more female engineers and, most importantly, create a culture where they are more likely to retain them. One interesting idea shared by Goodison was that she was changing the way job openings were advertised by reducing the list of “must have” technical skills and certifications to a much shorter list of absolute non-negotiables on the basis that she attracts more high quality and diverse candidates. There are also occasions when Goodison will go to a recruiter to shortlist for certain roles where an agreed proportion of applicants have a very specific profile. This doesn’t happen for all roles, but there are circumstances when a female-dominated screening is appropriate.
Goodison also shared his thoughts on how huge and complex organizations like HSBC can complement each other with Fintech rivals in the skills market.
“If you want to solve a really cool engineering problem, work for a fintech,” she said. “If you want something where every day you have a little more puzzles to solve, and problems that get you out of bed in the morning and groups of people around you thinking the same thing, then work for a bank. There are just so many opportunities and so many different problems to solve.”
Recruit and retain diverse talent
Goodison was then joined by Joseph Castle and Lisa Holmes to discuss how tech employers can find more diverse talent. From a recruiter’s perspective, Lisa Holmes pointed out that salaries are just the beginning of what many candidates are looking for now. Employers can make themselves more attractive by offering greater flexibility, shared parental leave, four-day work weeks, leadership and return programs, etc.
A consensus has emerged that tech employers are going to have to cast their nets more widely than they have done so far. Insisting on IT graduates isn’t going to attract enough people with the right skills, let alone allow an employer to build a more diverse team.
There was also consensus on the importance of company culture when it came to developing and retaining talent. People are much less likely to take their highly sought after and expensively developed skills elsewhere if they are given the opportunity to speak freely about their concerns and feel that those concerns have been addressed.
Joseph Castle made the interesting point that while culture was crucial, employees and employers should be careful not to confuse beanbags, DJs, and beers on a Friday with a healthy work culture. In fact, the presence of these trinkets can be deployed to mask some pretty toxic environments. Castle commented:
“Culture is really about being able to grow, about communicating the vision of an organization, about believing in that vision. It’s really important to create culturally nurturing environments for staff, and we have to be careful not to confuse culture with benefits. “
Both Castle and Goodison spoke about the importance of checking in with staff regularly, either through surveys or simply changing the way meetings start, with a focus on everyone’s well-being. In some ways this is an obvious point – a disgruntled and stressed workforce is likely to transform quite quickly – but perhaps so obvious that it is often completely ignored. However, we must also be careful not to confuse happiness with comfort. Employees are likely to be happier if they are encouraged to step out of their comfort zone – or at least push the boundaries.
A panel discussion on creating roles for women in STEM benefited from contributions from a highly engaged audience and covered questions on the selective deployment of quotas, the challenges of culture change, especially in large organizations , and also the need to actually talk to women rather than making assumptions about what they may or may not require of their employers. The need but also the difficulties inherent in making contact with potential employees in areas traditionally neglected by recruiters were also mentioned. Apprenticeship remains underutilized by the sector.
The morning ended with a talk by science and technology writer, researcher, author and podcaster Gemma Milne, who spoke about her experiences early in her career. His speech underscored the importance for businesses to look outside their organizations and examine the larger social fabric in which they operate. Big business in particular has some power to educate governments and society on the need to remove some of the barriers that prevent women from engaging in the workplace as much as they would like, such as child care costs. children and the desperately low rates of maternity benefit, etc. .
Milne also challenged the commonly held view that potential female leaders need to be “fixed” to fit the mold of what a leader should be. Instead, notions of what a leader looks and sounds like need to change.
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