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Working with business on STEM

Working with business on STEM
Chief Commissioner Michael Wardlow explains why companies should be encouraged to recruit more women into STEM industries.

'View from the Chair' article by Dr Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner, Equality Commission NI, published in the Business Newsletter, 2 Sept 2014

Earlier this month Twitter was alive with mentions of Ada Lovelace Day, which was on 14th October.  Ada (Lady Lovelace) was a daughter of Lord Byron, an outstanding mathematician, and wrote what is considered today to be the first computer programme.

The comparatively low profile afforded this remarkable woman set me thinking about the under-representation of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) industries today. Women are currently outnumbered by men in these industries by a factor of three to one. This is not simply a gender equality issue; it is a broader economic issue that has huge consequences for our future prosperity and growth.

The Equality Commission has been working with a number of companies, the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), and the STEM Business Group to improve the gender balance in STEM industries. Companies are encouraged to sign up to a STEM Equality Charter, where they make a formal commitment to take steps to recruit and retain more women in this field.  The most recent of 27 companies to sign up to the Charter, Allstate NI, is the largest IT company in Northern Ireland and currently has over 2,200 employees in its three offices.

Companies that wish to grow must appeal to the widest possible pool of talent and encourage everyone, but especially young women, to realise what great opportunities are offered by the STEM industries in Northern Ireland.

A report by the STEM Business Group, “Addressing Gender Balance – Reaping the Gender Dividend in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics" (pdf) highlights how attracting and retaining a more diverse workforce can maximize innovation, creativity and competitiveness.  The report also contains good practice guidelines for addressing the gender gap in STEM and has useful case studies of local companies who are already taking action to improve gender diversity in their organisation.

Many STEM or IT jobs offer very attractive career opportunities for women in terms of work-life balance, while also involving interesting projects and great opportunities to develop their skills.  There’s a range of innovative HR initiatives and policies that can be brought into play to encourage women to join the sector – and to stay.

The Commission can offer practical support and guidance to any employer in the STEM sector who wants to get involved.  We have established a STEM Employers Equality Network (SEEN), where good practice, advice and guidance on workplace gender equality issues is shared.

If you are interested in signing up to the Charter or would like to know more, please contact our Advice and Compliance team – tel: 028 90 500 600.

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