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How to recruit female STEM graduates

GradAustralia

Many years ago, the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths may have been considered male-dominated industries. However, GradAustralia’s Student Survey has shown higher graduation rates amongst females in all disciplines, including STEM.

In this whitepaper, we’ll take a look at the importance of recruiting female STEM graduates and how they can significantly diversify and enhance your business. Importantly, we’ll discuss what’s important to female STEM graduates, and what they really value in the workplace. We’ll also look into the barriers that are still facing women in STEM industries and how your workplace can become gender diverse to harness the talents of Australia’s top-end talent, regardless of gender.

It is our aim that the learnings gained from this paper will allow you to position yourself as a destination employer for the best female STEM talent.

Why is recruiting female STEM graduates important?

When we look at the changing dynamic of the Australian employment landscape, there’s perhaps no better indicator than the statistical snapshot of women in the Australian workforce released by The Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business. The report shows that not only is female employment growth outpacing that of their male counterparts across all industries, but strong growth is projected for female employment growth in professional, scientific and technical services. As employers, this should tell you that if you’re not currently attracting female STEM graduates, now is the time to consider why.

If you’re particularly statistics-oriented, we can boil it down to a simple numbers game. Our own 2018/2019 Graduate Student survey was completed by 67% female graduates, with 47% of respondents coming from STEM disciplines. This is reflective of higher female graduation rates, so based on these numbers, you would only have access to 33% of the talent pool if you’re unable to attract female graduates to work for you. There’s no industry where it makes good business sense to discard two-thirds of the best talent available.

When discussing the importance of women in STEM, we should look no further than the words of  Prof. Svetha Venkatesh, head of Deakin University’s Centre for Pattern Recognition and Data Analytics. She believes that in order to harness the opportunities of big data, socially diverse groups are far more innovative and effective than homogeneous ones.

Supporting Prof. Venkatesh’s thoughts is research conducted by Elsevier which suggests that diversity adds to the collective intelligence of a research group, with women bringing a unique perspective to scientific discussion. 

What this tells us from an employment point of view is that recruiting female STEM graduates isn’t only about fairness and equality - it’s a genuine opportunity to achieve better results. 

Gender diversity - we still have work to do

It’s pretty clear why STEM employers should be positioning themselves as leaders in gender diversity, so why are we still so far off the mark? A 2016 Australian Government report highlighted that women made up just 16% of people employed in STEM industries.

Unfortunately, that’s not the only statistic that needs to be addressed.

On a broad scale, a global study by Harvard indicated that 76% of respondents (both men and women) considered men to be better suited for careers and women as homemakers. While this is clearly an outdated world view, it shows that gender-bias still exists and still spills into our workplaces.

Our own research also concluded that men in STEM are 17% less likely than women to place importance on gender diversity when choosing an employer. By extension, this reflects that men currently working in STEM are not as concerned about gender diversity as the women who are crying out for equal opportunities.

The barriers faced by women in STEM fields do not differ dramatically from those faced by women in any professional field. Aside from general stereotypes and biases that are sadly still present in Australian workplaces, women often feel an increased need to prove their professional worth. They can also experience a lack of mentorship, misconceptions about choosing to have both a family and career, and of course the ever present issue of income equality. Even for graduates, the percentage of women earning in the top wage bracket is only 12% compared to 32% of men.

So, how can employers begin shifting the goalposts and become champions of gender diversity in STEM? 

Create a truly gender-equal workplace culture

One of the biggest challenges facing businesses is to address workplace culture which has grown from (and still suffers from) unconscious bias. By unconscious bias, we refer to a range of practices and behaviours that make life more difficult for women to achieve full workplace equality. Psychology Today describes unconscious bias (or implicit bias) as being ‘where your background, personal experiences, societal stereotypes and cultural context impact your decisions and actions without you realising.

In a practical sense, these biases may manifest in such practices as women not receiving access to training, experiencing negative performance appraisals, not being considered for certain roles or promotions, and being denied the same opportunities to network with professional colleagues. 

Australian employers have come a long way in removing obvious and blatant discrimination - there’s plenty of legislation to protect people from clear discrimination, but there is still plenty of work to be done in removing these unconscious biases that businesses may not even be aware of. In fact, a study by Professionals Australia titled Unconscious Gender Bias in the STEM Professions highlighted that over three-quarters of respondents felt unconscious gender bias was embedded in their company’s culture.

Creating a gender-equal workplace culture requires businesses to understand the needs of all their staff, whether that be through flexible working conditions, access to maternity and parental leave, and most importantly not assuming what a female graduate may be looking for in their career.

Word gets around quickly about workplace culture, so in order to attract top female STEM graduates, businesses need to put gender equality at the front of mind - from high-level policies down to daily working conditions. In fact, according to our own research, 85% of women in STEM agree that it’s important for them to join a gender-diverse workforce, meaning talented STEM graduates are more than happy to look elsewhere if an employer isn’t offering a gender diverse workplace.

Show what you do to promote gender diversity

It’s always said that actions speak louder than words. So, while it’s great to list out your equality and diversity policies in a dark corner of your website, at the end of the day it isn’t much more than words.

When female STEM graduates are researching the companies they’d love to work for, diversity and workplace culture is a big drawcard. And while the female population isn’t asking for much - a study by the University of Sydney shows that for 80% of women in the workplace, being treated with respect is important - it doesn’t hurt to showcase what your business does to encourage and support the careers of women in STEM.

Businesses should start actively thinking about what they do to create a gender inclusive workplace. In the same way that unconscious bias exists is some workplaces, there may be aspects of your culture that promote gender diversity without you even realising it. 

In business profiles, on your website and even in graduate program applications, make sure you’re letting people know about the great things you actually do to promote gender equality. While this list isn’t exhaustive, here are some items you might consider displaying in a section of your website dedicated to diversity.

  • Your gender diversity action plan, or similar policies relating to equality in the workplace.
  • Targeted career pathway programs or training for female graduates.
  • Policies on maternity leave, parental leave and flexible working conditions. 
  • What your organisation does to promote International Women’s Day.
  • List of diversity and gender bias training that staff are encouraged to attend.
  • Membership to professional organisations (i.e. Diversity Council of Australia).
  • Awards or recognition received for diversity.

Anything that makes your organisation stand out when it comes to gender diversity should be proudly displayed. It may just be business as usual for you, however, to potential applicants it can mean the difference between bringing their talents to you or looking elsewhere.

Profile female graduate success stories

Another key in attracting female STEM graduates is showing them that they’re not going to be alone. The visibility of women in STEM is important, not only in recruiting top female talent right now, but for inspiring future generations. This has recently been enhanced by the Australian Academy of Science developing a STEM database called STEM Women. The database aims to highlight and increase the public profile of talented women working in STEM industries.

A Harvard Business Review survey found that top female candidates take gender diversity seriously when evaluating job offers. The survey showed that 61% of women look specifically at the gender diversity of the employer’s leadership team when deciding where to apply. This highlights the importance of not just employing women, but of developing, mentoring and promoting talented female STEM employees to the positions they earn. Talented individuals will naturally be drawn to organisations they feel are serious about gender diversity, so the key for employers is to make sure female success stories are profiled and visible.

Increasing the visibility of female STEM graduate success stories is something all businesses can do, and it goes a long way to showing applicants that you’re serious about embracing gender equality. Whether it be on your own website, or on external company profiles such as GradAustralia, give your former and current female STEM graduates a chance to shine. It can go a long way to attracting more talented female grads to your business.

Highlight how your business impacts society

Corporate social responsibility refers to a self-regulating business model which determines how businesses will make a difference to society, the economy or the environment, either by charitable actions or supporting ethically-oriented causes. The importance of corporate responsibility can’t be understated from a consumer point of view, with research indicating that 90% of people would buy products from a company that supports an issue they care about.  But we can see that it is genuinely important when it comes to attracting high-quality female STEM graduates also.

It isn’t just all about corporate social responsibility though. Often a person’s decision whether to apply to work for your organisation can come down to the actual work you do on a daily basis, and whether it aligns with their own core values. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, an opportunity to make a difference in the world is one of the highest motivators for female employees. This can be combined with further research showing that 83% of millennials (of which young women are an equal part) would be more loyal to an employer who enables them to contribute to solving social and environmental problems. 

In all areas of STEM, businesses are doing great things every day that impact the way we live our lives, so make sure that’s showcased clearly. Let female STEM graduates see that joining your team will give them an opportunity to make a difference.

Ensure all written content is gender-neutral

This final one perhaps ties in with our earlier words on unconscious bias. It’s easy to rush through written content at times, not really thinking about how it could be interpreted. Using gender-neutral writing in all of your content is important, whether it be online content or your graduate program application info. 

A particular area of focus should be your job descriptions. There is a well known statistic which indicates men will apply for a job if they feel they meet 60% of the criteria, and women will apply only if they meet 100%. One way to encourage more female applicants is to remove or limit your list of essential qualifications, and move towards a more performance-based job description. By focusing on what the successful applicant will be responsible for achieving rather than what they need to have already achieved can encourage female applicants to have more confidence in their ability to apply for positions.

It’s also important to focus carefully on the language used in job descriptions. Removing words that are considered gendered will encourage more top female talent to apply with your company. Consider using some of the online software available, such as Textio, which helps you transform your job ads into attractive, gender-neutral content by removing any perception of bias. At all times you want to highlight what makes your company an attractive option for female candidates, and a great starting point is ensuring your written content is fully inclusive.

Recruiting female STEM graduates isn’t just about fairness. It’s a true step towards making your workplace fully inclusive and gender equal. Not only that, it’s about attracting the best talent you can find - and that’s simply not possible if you’re missing out on half the population. Keep in mind the fact that working groups can achieve more productive, insightful and effective results through diversity.

Being aware of, and working to address unconscious bias in the workplace can take some honest self-reflection as a leadership group, however it’s a vital step on the road to becoming a successful and attractive destination employee for the country’s best talent. 

If your business has done the hard work to create a gender inclusive workplace, it’s essential that you proudly display the results of your efforts, and highlight your female success stories who can serve as role models for potential applicants.

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