Jackie Rolf On Closing the Diversity Gap in STEM
Advisor, Inclusive Leadership & Diversity
1. What do you do and what is your background in STEM?
I work as an advisor to companies on their diversity and inclusion strategies, including how to get a more representative collection of women and men at senior management levels. I’ve also spent 30 years in banking, with my last role being Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Standard Chartered Bank.
My connection to STEM comes from banking as it is a highly diversified industry and uses specialists in all the STEM disciplines. Science and Engineering professionals are particularly useful in banking industries, and technologists are also highly sought after as the tech industry underpins all financial transactions. Similarly, mathematics is used a lot in trading, right up to quantum analysis of derivative transactions. Overall, the STEM disciplines are used in various banking subsections.
2. Why do you believe in supporting diverse STEM talent?
There is so much concentration on STEM and women in STEM at the moment, but I see STEM as an exaggerated version of what’s true in almost all industries: men outnumber women at senior management levels; it’s just to a greater or lesser extent. The STEM disciplines just show a really extreme version of that.
I feel that as well as hitting the world economy because companies are failing to use the talent that’s there in women, it’s just not right. Why are we as a society allowing this to happen? We’re allowing our best and brightest minds to be totally ignored or, at the very least, biased against.
I feel very passionately that women still face a huge number of barriers even in the developed world and a huge amount of bias. If people were more aware of this bias then they would take huge steps to change it.
3. What do you see as the key recruitment & retention?
Bias, bias and bias, whether conscious or unconscious. There’s a lack of understanding of how women generally behave differently to men and the difficulties they face, and how that affects hiring decisions.
Specifically there’s a bias against flexibility. In many companies’ minds it’s the same as a lack of commitment or doing the employee a favour – which it isn’t. It’s about making sure you create an environment where your people, who are your biggest expenditure, are able to produce their best every day. Not many of us produce our best in an office environment between 9-5 or 8-6.
To summarise there’s a huge amount of bias, and people simply don’t understand how this affects hiring decisions and holds diversity back.
4. How do you believe employers can better attract, secure and retain diverse STEM talent?
They need to remove barriers and remove the bias. Companies need to make all those responsible for hiring and promoting understand how bias affects decisions.
I believe a company should create a truly inclusive workplace and then shout about it.
By shouting about it, a company will be able to differentiate themselves; they need to essentially strike a real balance between marketing inclusivity, and actually living it. You can attract someone in by using inclusive messaging and you can secure them the same way, but in order to retain them you’ve got to walk the walk.
5. What is your advice to diverse talent looking to join or progress within the STEM sector?
I’m going to be controversial: for women, get up the career ladder as quickly as you possibly can and then start thinking about families. The higher up in a company you are, the more valuable you are to them and therefore the more flexible they will be willing to become. As part of that I would also say recognise your own self-limiting beliefs about specific industries; don’t be put off by what can seem to be quite complicated career paths. Try and demystify the whole topic. Once you’ve decided what you want to do, do your research on the company you want to join and its inclusiveness, and look at the gender stats they produce. If they don’t publish them, then don’t join. Look for the companies that shout about inclusivity.
6. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing to get more women into STEM what would you change?
Ideally I’d like to change three things:
As a long term solution I would go round all the primary schools in the world and give all the students a one-hour interactive class on coding. Coding and technology is all about solving problems and that’s what the world is going to need in the future. Technology isn’t going to be a separate subject, everybody is going to need it; but if we don’t bring women and diverse talent into the game, then we are going to force them out of work in the future.
A short term solution is to show women the stats of women in tech at Google, IBM and Microsoft for example, and show them the press about how these companies are determined to change. I would then team with tech companies to run recruitment seminars specifically for diverse talent; including ‘A day in the life of a Programmer / Chief Investment Officer’ etc. – I would focus on all the different levels. I would seek to demystify these jobs and get diverse candidates excited about what’s possible.
The simplest solution I have to offer would be to make every job flexible by default – this will help to get more women into any industry. It’s a complete fallacy that fewer hours equals less commitment.