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3 Top Companies' Strategies for Hiring and Retaining Women in STEM

Candidates with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) backgrounds are among the most sought out today, as companies aim to fill highly specialized technical positions. But in attracting these candidates, many companies struggle to achieve a gender balance -- an imperative today given that diverse, inclusive workplaces generate more productivity and revenue.

There are many hurdles in the way of recruiting and retaining women in technical positions, not the least of which is that women make up only 18% of computer science grads, and the proportion of women in STEM drops the higher they go in seniority. But despite the odds, there are still certain companies that have managed to rise above these challenges.

Image source: Getty Images.

In Glassdoor's recent eBook, Success Stories: Hiring Women in STEM, we spoke with three top employers -- Nokia (NYSE: NOK), 3M (NYSE: MMM) and Autodesk (NASDAQ: ADSK) -- to learn how they're recruiting and interviewing diverse candidates, and, ultimately, how they're creating better workplaces for women. Here were some of their best tips for attracting women in STEM and creating an inclusive environment in which they'll want to grow for years to come.

1. Make a public, long-term investment

If you only focus on diverse hiring for a short period of time, you can't expect to see results immediately. The lack of women in STEM fields is a complex, multifaceted issue that requires persistent, long-term action in order to see results. Knowing this, the leadership team at telecommunications company Nokia has created a multiyear plan with publicly stated goals in order to demonstrate its commitment to diversity and hold itself accountable to its stated objectives.

"Nokia is executing on a five-year strategy on gender balance, empowered by our leaders' conviction and actions," said Mohamed Habib, global competence head at Nokia. "Awareness is a first major step. We have been taking it very seriously, training our leaders, managers, and employees on gender balance best practices."

True to their word, the company has trained 4,200 leaders and employees since 2016 on gender balance, and publishes key metrics along with targets, performance, and achievements -- one of its goals is to increase the proportion of women in leadership by 25% by 2020.

To prove its dedication to the cause, Nokia has gone above and beyond to not only create change within its company, but also chip away at the root causes of gender inequality in STEM. Last year, Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri signed a letter of cooperation with UNESCO committing Nokia to promote gender equality, women's empowerment, and women's leadership. In 2018, they are continuing to work with Greenlight For Girls to inspire girls and young women in science and technology.

2. Eliminate bias in the hiring process

Companies have a hard enough time attracting women in STEM fields to their open positions -- the hiring and interview processes shouldn't pose an additional hurdle. Too often, though, they do. Implicit bias is often embedded in job descriptions, interview questions, interviewer attitudes, and more. This is something that design software company Autodesk is deeply aware of.

In order to more fully leverage the pipeline of minority and women candidates, Autodesk actively considers how to minimize bias, "from the way we write job descriptions to how we interview candidates," said Danny Guillory, head of global diversity and inclusion at Autodesk.

One way you may want to consider reducing bias in job descriptions is by leveraging a service like Textio, which identifies biased language and allows you to correct it. You would also do well to separate required skills from "nice to have" skills -- research shows that women are unlikely to apply for a position unless they meet 100 percent of the requirements, while men will apply if they meet just 60 percent of the requirements. A/B testing job descriptions on Glassdoor is also an effective way to identify unbiased verbiage.

It's also worth becoming familiar with some of the most common forms of bias in interviews so that you can combat it. Consider taking steps like:

  • Asking women for more details about their accomplishments, as they may be more likely than their male counterparts to downplay their success
  • Evaluating candidates based on past success versus an intangible quality like "future potential"
  • Making sure that culture fit is concretely defined as a set of values, so that interviewers don't inadvertently define it as "people like me"

3. Support inclusion efforts

Diversity without inclusion is a recipe for failure. If you're unable to maintain an inclusive environment, you'll encounter problems with diversity at every stage of the recruiting funnel. Women seeking STEM roles will be less attracted to your company in the research process, while female STEM candidates will be less likely to accept an offer from you following the interview process. Even if they do accept a job offer, women in STEM who don't feel supported will be less likely to stay at the company long-term after they've been hired.

Because of this, manufacturing company 3M makes inclusion a top priority. The company offers employee resource networks such as the Women's Leadership Forum, which "strengthen leadership skills and enhance collaboration across cultures, lifestyles, and genders," said Ann Anaya, chief diversity officer at 3M. It has also been recognized with accolades like the Catalyst Award, which honored efforts like 3M's "I'm in" inclusion initiative, employee resource networks, leadership development platforms, workplace flexibility policies, and mentoring and community engagement programs. Benefits and programs such as these all contribute to women's long-term engagement with their jobs, which can not only boost retention, but also your reputation for being an excellent employer for women in STEM.

Hiring women in STEM is certainly not without its challenges, but as the three examples above show, employers are far from helpless when it comes to recruiting and retaining phenomenal women in technical roles. It may take time, but making a public commitment to champion equality, identifying and reducing sources of bias in the hiring processes, and creating programs and policies that support women can go a long way toward helping you become a more diverse and innovative place to work.

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Glassdoor has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends 3M. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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