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How to ensure your D&I initiatives include women

Diverse group of women facing the camera

ARTICLE SUMMARY

We are in the midst of an acute global skills shortage across technology and engineering.
Tinashe Mutore, Development Chemical Engineer and Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) committee at Edwards in Clevedon, Bristol

Tinashe Mutore, Development Chemical Engineer and Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) committee at Edwards in Clevedon, Bristol, shares her insights as a woman in STEM, where women make up just 14% of the workforce in the UK. She explains why she is so passionate about ensuring D&I initiatives are more than just a tick box exercise and explores why it is so important to encourage more women into STEM roles.

Tinashe has a master’s in chemical engineering from the University of Newcastle and joined Edwards as a graduate engineer three years ago. She is passionate about pushing for gender equity and equality and making a difference for women in the engineering and technology sectors.

THERE WERE MORE THAN 2 MILLION TECH JOB VACANCIES BETWEEN MAY 2021 AND 2022.

This shortage and the decline in young people entering the sector is a real concern. So much so that an inquiry has been launched to explore how apprenticeships could help increase the number of diversities of young people entering engineering and technology.

At the same time, women still make up a minority of the sector workforce. For example, just 25% of coding jobs are filled by women. As an engineer I am always looking for solutions to problems. And it seems obvious to me that in order to succeed, any initiatives that aim to address the skills shortage must include women in STEM.

IMPROVING OUTLOOK

The good news is that the outlook for the female STEM workforce is gradually improving. We are growing in number and in 2019 government data showed more than one million women working in STEM occupations. But it’s not enough and there is still more to do.

As Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Chair at Edwards, I am passionate about ensuring D&I initiatives bring about genuine progress. Drawing on my experience in this role, and as a woman in STEM myself, below are some strategies that have proved effective in developing a culture that is inclusive of women.

1. SECURE LEADERSHIP SUPPORT.

First up, no woman is an island. To address any big challenge, you need allies. And it helps if at least some of those allies hold senior positions. It’s also important to ensure that the responsibility for D&I isn’t just delegated by the senior leadership team to a committee or individual. Maintaining this ownership will ensure assertions made about D&I in your company mission statement or recruitment materials are backed up by action.

For example, as D&I Chair at Edwards I have a monthly meeting with the General Manager of our Clevedon site. In addition, the leadership team is involved with ideas and support to get things done.

2. ASK BEFORE YOU ACT.

As with any change management project, it’s a good idea to involve your stakeholders before you develop a strategic plan. This includes employees and in particular women in STEM roles. Do you know what the needs and current gaps are? Sometimes it’s the simple

things that will make a real difference to women’s every day working lives – but you won’t know unless you ask.

At Edwards, we conducted a D&I survey a couple of years ago to discover areas for improvement and what our team wanted us to concentrate on. This was really useful in identifying key initiatives where we should focus our efforts.

3. DECIDE AND FOCUS ON AN ACHIEVABLE GOAL.

Our D&I survey showed that women on the team would feel supported by free sanitary products in the bathrooms. It’s a relatively inexpensive thing to offer that makes a real difference to the everyday.

Another immediate priority is workplace inclusion. That means creating an environment where everyone can speak their minds, regardless of their gender or background. We want everyone to know they will never be judged for being themselves.

4. DON’T AVOID UNCOMFORTABLE TOPICS.

I got involved as D&I Chair to bring about action and change. And sometimes this means speaking up about issues in the workplace that might feel uncomfortable. My fellow committee members and I don’t always agree, but we work hard to create an environment where people listen and respectfully consider the opinions of others.

For instance, there might have been some initial reluctance to discuss sanitary products. However, the topic of periods shouldn’t be different to any other health issue. We found that any initial hesitancy dispersed after we started an open conversation.

5. PROMOTE AN ‘ASK AND LEARN’ CULTURE.

An inclusive culture is important to ensure all groups feel valued and supported, including women in STEM. No one wants to be judged but in a diverse workforce of different backgrounds, age groups and genders there may be knowledge gaps – and that’s fine. Open dialogue and mutual respect is important to avoid hesitancy about asking questions.

Our D&I survey showed gaps in people’s knowledge about topics such as gender pronouns. We’ve introduced more education to support our team in this area. Individuals are also encouraged to ask if they are unsure and accept being corrected if they get it wrong.

CONSISTENT EFFORT

There’s no magic bullet and it will take effort over the long term to attract and retain more women into engineering and technology. Of course, we have more to do at Edwards and we know we’re not perfect. But I’ve seen a big improvement and there’s a genuine desire to do better – led by the D&I Committee and driven by what the whole team wants our values to be.

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