Colourful puzzle pieces are lined up on a wooden table, symbolising a diverse talent pipeline.
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How can we build a diverse and inclusive STEM talent pipeline?

13 Nov 2020601 Views

Thought leaders in the Silicon Republic community discuss prioritising diversity and equality for the STEM workforce of the future.

The future of work will be many things. It will probably be flexible, with remote working and shorter weeks becoming more common. Some of it is likely to be automated, as advances in technology help free up employees for more meaningful and purposeful work.

But we must not forget that these will only be possible if we build a strong pipeline and prioritise diversity, inclusion and equality. If we’re to have any hope of facing up to the challenges awaiting us, we must arm ourselves with as many voices and perspectives as possible – and we must do it now.

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The STEM industry is constantly encouraging young people to consider careers in this area. But we can’t just fill the pipeline with talent and expect diversity to happen naturally. We need to lay down the pipe itself with foundations and infrastructure that will help encourage and include people from all backgrounds. It’s not just the right thing to do – it’s the best chance we can give ourselves of a brighter future.

Building the STEM talent pipeline

How do we begin to build a talent pipeline? PwC Ireland’s people and organisation partner, Gerard McDonough, told us that encouraging enough young people to pursue STEM careers has been a “longstanding challenge”.

“The dial will only move on this when businesses and the institutions work together,” he said. “At the heart of the hiring challenges when building a diverse STEM talent pipeline is building the right awareness and appetite with students, including school students, at as early an age as possible for the opportunities that exist.”

Companies also need to be self-critical. Workhuman’s Andrea Johnson, a senior director in its Global Business Systems Group, doesn’t entertain the idea that the hurdles in hiring diverse STEM talent are “just a supply-side problem”.

“Yes, the market is competitive,” she said. “But I think we have to widen our lens. Rather than focusing solely on skills and experience, we need to look at our potential humans with an eye for potential and growth – what could they be capable of in the future.

“Driving diversity is no longer a ‘nice to have’. It brings rich and diverse thinking.”

Women in STEM

Getting more women into STEM is just one area in need of attention. There are numerous initiatives dedicated to this, including Women in Technology and Science (WITS) Ireland, which recently turned 30. But there is plenty more to do.

According to Citibank Europe’s chief information officer, Claire Chung, just 15pc of the people who enter into STEM college courses are women. “This filters the whole way through the system,” she said, adding that many women can also face difficulties when re-entering the workforce after maternity leave.

“If we want a diverse talent pool, we need to actively seek out diverse candidates, giving them a tap on the shoulder. We need to spot talent early and both encourage and challenge them to take on bigger responsibilities.

“We need to have empathy and offer flexibility and ensure we have senior role models who are authentic and willing to discuss the challenges and opportunities.”

‘The external STEM pipeline is often blamed for lack of diversity but there are other aspects of the hiring process that pose challenges, such as bias and talent sources’
– SHARON WALSH, FIDELITY INVESTMENTS

Accenture Ireland’s HR director, Lisa Rose, pointed to this underrepresentation as a root cause for the challenges faced by hiring managers. Recent research carried out by the company suggested that primary and secondary-school students need better visibility of the benefits of a career in STEM.

“The report found that teachers (61pc) and parents (66pc) think that students are not given enough information about their potential future careers when they are in school,” Rose said. And while the issue may start as early as in the classroom, this doesn’t mean industry can’t play its part in overcoming it.

She discussed some of the initiatives Accenture is driving to help this. Its STEM transition-year programme, for example, brings students on-campus for an inside look at internships and graduate opportunities.

“Considering only 25pc of those working in STEM-orientated roles in the market are female, we have put many initiatives in place to attract females to join us but also to highlight the exciting opportunities that exist in this area,” she said.

“We have created a Women in Data Science Accelerator, which is accredited by the Analytics Institute of Ireland. This programme helps participants to build their data science skillsets over a six-week course, which is hosted by teams from the Accenture business including leaders from The Dock – Accenture’s flagship R&D and global innovation centre.”

Rethinking how we hire

Industry must still take accountability for its shortcomings, however. In his recent talk at Future Human 2020, Gartner’s Rob O’Donohue highlighted how neurodivergent talent can be neglected in the hiring market.

He explained that although many neurodiverse people are qualified and looking for work, they may not be considered by employers based on the way hiring systems are set up. “In effect, this means that many neurodivergent people are being filtered out,” O’Donohue said. “CIOs are struggling to find the talent, yet it exists. It’s just that they’re not looking in the right places.”

‘If we want a diverse talent pool, we need to actively seek out diverse candidates, giving them a tap on the shoulder’
– CLAIRE CHUNG, CITI

Clearly, we must rethink how we recruit. Sharon Walsh, vice-president of technology management at Fidelity Investments, echoed O’Donohue’s thoughts. “Diversity in technology is a code that the industry at-large has yet to solve,” she said.

“It is not something that just happens; it needs to be intentional in all aspects of how a company operates, both internally and externally. The external STEM pipeline is often blamed for lack of diversity but there are other aspects of the hiring process that pose challenges, such as bias and talent sources.”

Inherent biases, for example, need to be challenged. But in isolation, that’s simply not enough. At Fidelity, Walsh said that the company leverages software to ensure its job postings are written with gender-neutral wording. This can help “a larger pool of people to self-identify” with the roles on offer.

“We also ensure diverse interview panels so prospective employees can see our company’s commitment to diversity in the make-up of our existing talent base,” she said. “Relying solely on traditional talent sourcing is another challenge. It is important that companies look to diversify where they source talent from.”

Fidelity’s Resume programme, for example, helps people return to work after an extended break. The company is also focusing more on apprenticeship programmes to “gain access to diverse talent”.

Keeping the momentum

Of course, there’s no point in building a diverse talent pipeline and then ignoring the diverse needs of people once they reach employment. Support for diversity, inclusion and equality must be an ongoing priority.

One step companies can take here is setting up dedicated support networks that employees can join, which can help move past a top-down and surface-level approach to inclusion.

At Workhuman, employee resource groups (ERGs) have been a useful way to drive diversity and inclusion initiatives. Employee programmes manager at the company, Caoimhe Dunbar, said: “Presently, we have three active ERGs; a women’s network, a network for parents and, more recently, a LGBTQA+ network.

“We are also really excited about two new ERGs that we are launching. These groups will focus on sustainability and diversity and inclusion – specifically race and culture. These groups exist to encourage our team members to have a voice and allow them to have an active role in our diversity and inclusion mission.”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa joined the team as senior Careers reporter in July 2019 with previous experience in science communication and media. With a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication, she is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos.

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