It’s well known that Women in STEM is an ever topical issue in the working world, and has been for many years. More and more females are increasingly speaking out about the issues they face within the STEM industry and raising awareness of what is being done and needs to be done to attract and retain talent within STEM. One really important part of the conversation is the need for women to come and share their experiences in order to encourage and promote the idea of getting involved in STEM to younger females. This is where mentor programmes and communities come in. Client Relationship Manager at SThree, Jessica Swann talks us through the importance of these in detail in the below article.
What exactly is a mentor programme in STEM and what are the benefits?
A mentor programme, in general, is essentially a partnership or programme which connects people with similar skills and knowledge who act as mentors to those learning from them who are known as mentees. The role of the mentee is to participate in active listening with their mentor, to share their personal experiences within this industry or area of work, quiz them about any challenges and discuss underrepresentation or unfairness they experience as female professionals.
The most obvious benefit of such is to hopefully streamline and improve processes to make things better within the community. The mentors can then align the mentee's expectations of what to expect from a role, make them aware of the challenges which they may face as well as promoting increased socialisation among women in these fields. This can essentially lead to women breaking down preconceived gender role barriers. When it comes down to it, many STEM companies have a much smaller percentage of female staff than males. Therefore, having a lack of mentorship in these scenarios can result in a fallout from those who feel they have no support or direction within the industry.
While some people assume mentoring is limited to schooldays, this is not the case at all. Mentoring is more than beneficial in the workplace too, particularly in areas of low female representation such as STEM. Mentorship can make a real difference to companies where it is applied correctly, especially when teamed with benefits that compliment this, such as increased maternity leave, healthcare benefits and work/life balance. The push for more female mentors in STEM should start within leadership and work its way right down to the intern level. If a mentor programme like this is to succeed, it has to have significant investment from all members of the business, not just those who are on the receiving end of the learning and knowledge.
Which companies have effective mentoring programmes?
On a global scale, there are some organisations stand out as having effective Women in STEM mentor programmes which I feel we could use as an example here. One such is WEX Inc. This payment processing and information management company is a pioneer in terms of Women in STEM goals. It is quite active in promoting Women in STEM and provides active mentoring groups like the ones mentioned above for both females and males. According to Forbes, WEX is ‘’keeping women in STEM Careers’’. There is even a Women at WEX group, where a panel of successful women from outside the company spoke about what it’s taken them to succeed in male-dominated industries. This is a quarterly meet up, where those involved meet to discuss their career paths, work/life balance, female leadership, and many other relatable topics. They also address what it takes for them to thrive and succeed in a male-dominated environment. This has created an environment of active mentorship, which WEX feels is especially important to implement throughout female leadership, management and supervisors.
Another global firm worth mentioning is Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). This is a large Indian multinational which specialises in IT Service and Consulting and is a global leader in the market. It’s also a company that is highly passionate about Women in STEM. They are a key technology provider to Million Women Mentors, a global movement designed to attract and encourage girls and women to pursue careers and leadership opportunities in STEM, and have even gone as far as publishing whitepapers on the topic, which was really interesting. A lot of their leadership is female, which for the industry they operate in can be seen as quite a rarity. TCS is constantly improving and promoting innovation in terms of Women in STEM. Just last year they ran a week-long experience programme aimed at female students in years 10 and 11 with the goal being to inspire a new generation of STEM professionals. This actually took place in both Sydney and Melbourne and is a great example of the work TCS does here in Australia. Under this programme, participants got the opportunity to meet with Senior Executives from both TCS and our client organisations, who then provided information into the various STEM roles available on the market, with the hope of generating momentum among the younger generation to get them excited about a future in STEM.
Is the experience better at larger or smaller enterprises?
Surprisingly, the jury is out on this one. The sense of a STEM community and mentor organisations can exist in any organisation, whether it be on the smaller side or of a larger scale. In fact, some sources say that women working in STEM actually may prefer to work for a smaller company where they feel they are making more of an impact and receive more support. According to Edinburgh based consultancy Purpose HR, just 20 percent of felt that they would rather be employed by a larger company. One of the reasons for this listed in the article is due to a ’community-like environment’. Other reasons listed included topics such as a clear opportunity for progression and better team dynamics. However, it also stated that while this sentiment may be the case, there is still more that could be done at SME’s and larger organisations alike to retain and promote female talent.
On the flip side, there are certain things smaller organisations can learn from larger corporations in order to compete with them in terms of attracting and retaining top STEM talent. One of these is to become committed to being a champion of Women in STEM, no matter how small or large your budget is. This involves promoting your brand as an advocate, whether that be at universities, colleges, career fairs or via organisations – and what better way to showcase this than through the outlining of a relevant community or mentor programme which your employees can avail of. You can then go on to include this in collateral such as your Employee Value Proposition (EVP).
It goes without saying that from the above the importance of a community or mentorship in Women in STEM is non-negotiable, but there is still much more we could discuss in relation to this topic. Interested in hearing more about this? We’re hosting a Women in STEM roundtable discussion on topics like this and more on March 26th. Please get in touch with myself at the following contact details to find out more –