Reblogged from the Telegraph UK

Female workers are urged to champion their own skillsets so STEM companies can reap the benefits of stronger teams and increased profits

Female MBDA employee

There are more female engineers persuing careers than ever before – but the balance is far from even

STEM companies want more female workers. It’s nothing to do with equality targets – it’s because it pays. “Homogeneity is bad for business,” agrees Ann Watson, CEO of Semta, the employer-led skills organisation that currently has a funded programme working with Jayne Little of Skills4 Ltd to provide training and coaching on gender diversity. “If everyone on a team is the same, they’re less likely to innovate, to challenge and to ask ‘why don’t we do this another way?’”

They may be less able to empathise with a broad range of customers, and research even suggests that companies with diverse workforces and a greater number of women on the board are more profitable. And if employers only recruit men they are potentially missing out on half the population.”

Many STEM employers are now aware that diversity is better for business and Skills 4’s courses are booked up months in advance. Many firms are already addressing some of the issues affecting women (and men) with families, such as flexible and part-time working. They are also promoting more women into senior positions.

Jayne Little believes the focus should be on helping women to understand and benefit from their difference, and showing them positive female role models within the company, especially at senior level. “For many women, the biggest barrier is confidence and self-belief,” she says. She sympathises with Jemma Bird, recently fired from BBC1’s The Apprentice, who described herself as “always the girl that nearly wins”. “Her language and attitude were all too familiar,” sighs Little.

To some extent, self-confidence can be taught. Little recommends adopting the “Wonder Woman pose” before giving a presentation – spreading your body out to increase the flow of testosterone – and deliberately participating more actively in meetings (also useful advice in school or university classes).

Self-belief can be more complex. “I got to middle-management level but then my career started to meander,” says Rachel Cook, an associate director at engineering giant Atkins, which she joined as a graduate trainee in 1997. “I was afraid of failure, and felt I had to ‘tick all the boxes’ before I was confident enough to progress. When I finally applied for my last promotion, people said I should have done it years ago.”

Women need to showcase what they have achieved, taking the credit rather than being too modest, says Watson. Setting career goals is also a big problem – perhaps one reason why fewer women make it into the boardroom – so this is a major focus of the career development programmes that Semta is currently delivering.

For Cook, who now manages 90 people in Atkins’s energy business, taking part in this training was a revelation. “I learned that if someone says you’re ready to progress, just believe them,” she says. “I take a lot more risks now but they pay off, and I’m a lot more verbal in meetings.”

Things are easier for women entering engineering today, Cook believes. There are more women at Atkins now – about one graduate recruit in five, rather than one in 10 when she joined – and there is a women’s professional network at each career level. Many people work flexibly, including Cook herself, who has two young sons and works a 28-hour week.

She hopes the balance will become more even, although it’s still a while off reaching 50:50. But, adds Cook, there are compensations in being outnumbered for now. “It’s good to be different,” she says. “It means I stand out.”

Semta is offering engineering employers across England and Wales high quality, cost effective training designed specifically for their female workforce. Find more information at: