Although women now comprise about 50 percent of the workforce in the U.S., the number of those employed in the STEM fields – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – continues to lag.
If you work in a STEM field, you may see this problem reflected in the gender diversity of your workforce.
Though it is illegal to base hiring decisions on a person's gender, companies can make an effort to diversify their hiring pool. If your businesses wants to increase the number of female applicants that you receive, it's important to start by looking at the culture of your workplace.
Women in STEM fields
According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women hold only 29 percent of the science and engineering jobs in the U.S., despite making up about half of the college-educated workforce in the country. And this isn't due to a lack of STEM-related degrees – women earned 50.3 percent of science and engineering bachelor's degrees in 2013.
Though efforts are being made to increase the number of women in STEM fields – including a $200 million per year to promote tech education for women and minorities, signed by President Donald Trump in September – many companies still find it difficult to attract and retain gender diversity in the workplace.
Culture that encourages female applicants
If you want to hire more female candidates, you need to start by creating a work culture that encourages women to apply for your job in the first place.
Supporting your female employees with a mentor of their own gender can go a long way in creating a workplace that encourages gender diversity. Look at your managers or executive team. If you have a decent number of women on staff at your company but not a single one is in a leadership position, your female employees may feel that they don't have anyone with whom to identify, which can limit mentorship opportunities.
Another way to create a better culture for women is to create more flexible work hours. This can allay fears of working mothers who want to ensure that they'll be able to work remotely on occasion to take care of sick children or leave early for a band concert or soccer game.
Providing equal maternity and paternity leave is also important. By offering this perk to both sexes, it can help remove some of the stigma around hiring women.
Finally, one of the clearest ways to attract women to your workplace is to offer equal pay for equal work. Review the salaries across your team. If your male staff members are making more than their female counterparts in the same role, you should reevaluate how you determine salaries.
Recruitment strategies in STEM
Though you can't intentionally hire more women, you can be intentional about targeting recruiting efforts toward female candidates. When more women apply, you increase your odds of ultimately hiring one of them for your open position.
"To attract female candidates, start by recruiting in the right places."
To attract female candidates, start by recruiting in the right places. It stands to follow that if you don't advertise in the publications, job boards or job fairs used by women, you likely won't get many females in your applicant pool. You should also build relationships with programs in your community that offer mentorship and networking opportunities to women to enhance your recruiting efforts.
Once you start to attract female candidates, take a look at your interview process. It's important to have at least one woman on the panel. Not only can this help eliminate gender bias in the questions, it also shows candidates that you have women working in the department for which they're being considered.
When you start discussing your impressions of candidates, be sure to challenge vague opinions, such as "I just didn't like her" or "I got a bad vibe." These statements can hide unconscious – or conscious – gender bias. Be sure to get to the root of the issue to ensure that it's a real problem before dismissing the candidate.
With a little bit of intentionality, you can create a workplace and hiring process that encourages all professionals to succeed.