Head of Engineering, Co-op
Data & Loyalty Director, Co-op
Chief Product Officer, Co-op
In order to successfully recruit female STEM talent — and maximise inventiveness and creative outcomes — an organisation must ensure that equality is part of its DNA.
Any STEM organisation that wants to be a leader in its field must ensure that it attracts, empowers, champions and promotes women. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise, says Charlotte Lock, Data & Loyalty Director at Co-op. After all, women make up 50% of the talent in the world — so why would a business not want that same ratio in their recruitment and development programmes?
“From a woman’s perspective, STEM roles can be highly stimulating, fulfilling and well-paid,” agrees Lock. “But from an organisation’s perspective, STEM contributes massively to innovation and growth, so it’s important that women are well-represented. It’s not just a question of gender, however; Co-op is passionate about ensuring equality and representation across all areas of diversity. Firstly, ensuring equality across the board is the right thing to do; and also recruiting from a wider talent pool offers us better ideas, greater inventiveness and more creative outcomes. Doing good is good for business.”
Focussing on transferable skills
Lock insists that STEM careers can be found in unlikely places. Take Co-op, which has a huge range of STEM career opportunities, including platform and software engineers, analysts, data scientists, and insight specialists. Its product design department, meanwhile, includes content designers, copywriters, visual designers and product managers. Team members don’t necessarily come from ‘traditional’ STEM backgrounds.
“There’s a stereotype that to be successful in STEM you need a degree in maths or computer science,” says Adam Warburton, Chief Product Officer, Co-op. “Yet we have product designers who can’t write a single line of code, but can design brilliant interfaces that bring data and technology to life. So it’s possible to get into STEM from less typical routes.”
Danielle Haugedal-Wilson is Head of Engineering at Co-op. She believes that to get more women into STEM, it’s crucial to switch young people onto the subject at an early age. That’s why Co-op works with different partners to go into schools and demonstrate the possibilities of STEM careers. “I’m always incredibly humbled by the amount of talent out there,” says Haugedal-Wilson, remembering when she was judge at a digital skills competition. “I was astonished to find that a team of school girls at the event had developed facial recognition software from scratch — and they’d only just finished their GCSEs at the time! I meet some amazing young people who have bright careers ahead of them.” Co-op also actively promotes STEM in it’s 27 academies and encourages colleagues to take an active role in developing the next generation of talent.
It’s so important for an organisation to show that it’s committed to helping employees fulfil their family commitments.
Embracing flexible attitudes
Of course, any STEM organisation that wants to attract talent like this can’t simply bolt-on equality as an after-thought. “It has to be part of your DNA,” says Haugedal-Wilson. “For instance, when anyone joins our tech, data and digital teams, they do so on a base salary so that everyone is treated equally. We also make our work/life balance policies clear, so that if someone is thinking about starting a family, they don’t have to mention it during the interview, because they know what our position is already. If we treat everyone the same, then it’s better for everyone.”
Lock agrees, and points out that, these days, staff members — whatever their gender — expect flexible and remote working, too. “A lack of flexibility can inhibit a woman’s career,” Lock says. “That’s why it’s so important for an organisation to show that it’s committed to helping employees fulfil their family commitments.”
Plus, a business needs to mentor and sponsor its female staff, offering them development and training so that they can build on transferable skills and progress up the career ladder just as easily as men. “In our organisation, 80% of the executive is female,” says Lock. “This demonstrates that it’s not just possible for women to grow into these roles. It’s actively encouraged.”