Attract and Retain Top Talent in STEM


By Cheryl Kristiansen

Why do we need to attract and retain top talent in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)? The simple answer to this question is that it helps fuel innovation and economic growth in all sectors. This question, along with the discussion of gender diversity in STEM fields, has become a top priority for many organizations across Canada and globally.

While there have been some improvements in the representation of women in the traditionally male-dominated STEM fields, much more work still needs to be done.

Where is the Top Talent in Industry?
Women make up 48 per cent of the Canadian work force, but represent 43 per cent of life science professionals, 24 per cent of computer and information systems professionals, 21 per cent of technical positions, and 12 per cent of professional engineers. Women with STEM degrees are more likely to be unemployed or employed in fields which do not require a degree compared to men with similar degrees. And, a high proportion of STEM women also leave their organizations after 10 – 15 years.

In high tech companies like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google, 35 per cent of their workforce is women, but women represent only 15-17 per cent of their technical employees and only 20-25 per cent of senior staff.

Is The Picture Different in Academia and Research Sectors?
Women hold only 15 per cent of full professorships in science overall, and only 8 per cent of full professorships in engineering, as compared to 31 per cent in humanities. Only 3 per cent of the top 25 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) research grantees (as measured by grant size) involve women.

Why is Gender Diversity a Key to Innovation?
Expanding technical sectors need to attract and retain more talent to address skills shortages and to bring the power of diversity to accelerate innovation. Studies by the Conference Board of Canada and Corporate Governance link gender diversity not just to employee satisfaction, but also to improved governance, innovation, and economic benefits for corporations.

Collective Intelligence Rises
A study published in The Harvard Business Review illustrated that collective intelligence rises in a group with more women involved. Studies in the Journal of Business Ethics found that the presence of at least 30 per cent women on a board decreases “groupthink”, while women directors improve a firm’s ability to navigate complex strategic issues.

Women as a Catalyst for Growth
At the BC Economic Forum last fall and in regional meetings this spring throughout BC, women are targeted as the catalyst for growth – to help drive innovation in technology and other emerging sectors, as entrepreneurs, and advancing as leaders.

Understanding Gender Diversity
As part of the Government of Canada’s Status of Women Initiative to advance women in technology, The Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST) has developed programs and resources to understand and address gender diversity.

What Can Organizations Do To Attract and Retain Top Talent?

  • Understand factors that influence the success of women in their organizations
  • Assess current hiring practices, workplace conditions and policies for women
  • Develop effective practices to welcome, support and advance talented women
  • Develop and share tools to measure success
  • Network with other organizations and leaders to share success stories

To learn more about how to ‘Attract and Retain Top STEM Talent’, attend this SCWIST hosted workshop on June 11 at SFU Harbour Centre. Facilitated by WinSett Centre, this interactive workshop features guest speakers Dr. Lesley Shannon, associate professor of Engineering Science from SFU and Victoria Brydon, senior director of Human Resources at D-Wave Systems.

Cheryl Kristiansen,P. Eng from SCWIST brings diverse expertise in project management, engineering innovation and leading transformative change in STEM.  She has a degree in Mechanical Engineering, hands-on experience in alternate fuels technology and senior leadership experience in the oil and gas sector. Cheryl is project manager for the new Make Possible Mentoring Network that encourages women to connect, collaborate and lead through a dedicated mentoring network in STEM.

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