Gender parity is still a long way off, but together we can bring change.
A former Google employee recently published a memo containing a series of ‘observations’ related to the company’s diversity programmes. This now infamous memo included comments on womens’ ‘neuroticism’, ’lower stress tolerances’, and supposed lack of ability to tackle ‘traditionally male’ subjects like science, technology and engineering.
Of course, he's wrong. But his memo, and his attitudes, show that we still have lots to do to change hearts and minds.
If we start with what we can measure most easily – pay. There is still a significant pay gap: a 2016 study by Deloitte put the overall gender pay gap at 9.4%, and 8% for STEM job roles (science, tech, engineering and mathematics). At current rates, we won’t reach pay parity in STEM roles until 2069.
Knock down the barriers
If we then look at the representation of women in STEM workplaces. While there tends to be a lot of focus on the perceived differences between men and women in the media science suggests we’re a lot more alike than you might think. There’s little or no practical difference in ability or physical brain structure between the sexes. But the legacy of outdated attitudes towards the relative strengths of men and women is that too few women are considering STEM jobs as a career, even if they are qualified to do so. As many as 70% of women with STEM qualifications do not go on to work in relevant STEM industries. So we need to make changes - today.
The idea that men are better suited to technology jobs is long-held but completely wrong. Alison Whitney, Deputy Director for Digital Government at GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is determined to knock down the barriers that could prevent talented people – regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity or religion – from being successful in the technology sector.
Alison’s post is about more than just promoting NCSC’s gender equality programme, a drive that has resulted in an above-industry-average of 35% women in its workforce. It’s also a rallying call that challenges other organisations to shout about their gender equality programmes and share their experiences. The overall aim is to raise awareness of the issues facing women in technology and STEM jobs. Because it’s only by talking about it that we’ll start to break down the stereotypes that are feeding this problem.
We can all make a difference
At BAE Systems, we believe we can all make a difference. In the spirit of Alison’s challenge, here is just some of the work we’re doing to tackle gender inequality and fight regressive attitudes.
As well as workplace initiatives, we think it’s important – and logical – to focus on making a difference in education. We’re supporting programmes that encourage more children to take an interest in STEM, such as the NCSC’s CyberFirst bursary programme, which offers £4,000 to students studying STEM subjects.
When you’re a student, role models are essential. This’s why we recently held an open day for school girls to meet women who have carved out successful careers in technology. The event was a great success, which saw 40 students and 20 teachers take part. It’s important to hear the experiences of those who’ve gone before, so we regularly provide career information talks aimed at female undergraduates.
We’re also continuing to focus on making a change in our own the workplace. We have a number of employee groups and networks that aim to increase awareness of the challenges around gender stereotyping and everyday sexism.
We ensure we have a strong female presence in external awards by actively encouraging our female employees to enter and showcase what they have achieved. Our female colleagues proactively look for opportunities at speaking events and forums to celebrate success, provide inspiration and be role models for others. We encourage staff to personally contribute to creating a more inclusive workplace, and each part of our business has a Diversity and Inclusion working group in place. After all, change can only really start at the grass roots.
We’re also looking at our recruitment process to help us appeal to a more diverse set of candidates.
We are fighting a battle on two fronts: we need to encourage more young women to enter STEM fields, but we also need to combat the detrimental attitudes of some people in the industry. We are committed to playing our part in this hugely important endeavor.