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Shweta Shukla On Closing the Diversity Gap in STEM

Shweta Shukla
Head of Human Resources – South East Asia and India at Facebook

1. What do you do and what is your background in STEM?

I joined Facebook close to five years ago. My first job was running the HR for India and now I run HR for South East Asia and India and our Singapore based regional functions.
During my time at Facebook I’ve had the opportunity and the good fortune to learn a lot about the different regions as I also supported HR for our teams in Japan, Korea and Hong Kong. It’s been an interesting journey as I’ve seen the company grow from where it started and its early stages in APAC, to a very robust and strong business.

The biggest selling point for me is the cultural diversity of the people I work with and the different backgrounds they come from; personally that’s been a really enriching experience for me. As a company we strive to be inclusive of all types of talent. We want to ensure that every aspect of the company – whether it’s in technology, sales or marketing – has a good representation of women and women leaders. While we continually strive to be inclusive, our new hire numbers are trending up but it will be some time before we see a marked increase in headcount percentages among underrepresented groups. We’re committed to making progress through our own initiatives and in partnership with external organizations. But it’s not something Facebook can solve on its own; an impact needs to be made on a community level.

Being part of HR is where I come in; all of us in the department are deeply involved in attracting more women into our pipeline for technology and other roles. I work with our recruiting team and business team to make sure this central to the agenda. We need an employee base that reflects the diversity of the over 1.5bn people who use Facebook.

2. Why do you believe in supporting diverse STEM talent?

Diversity matters because we are building a product that serves 1.4bn people around the world, and we need to have a broad range of perspectives – people of different ages, races, genders and points of view. It is very important that any organisation has a similar representation in every function. We’re building products to connect the world, which means we need a team that understands and reflects many different communities, backgrounds and cultures. This is really critical.

Another thing personal for me is that sometimes – societal pressures or social norms define our choices. I feel like at a societal level, we need to be able to influence and make those changes to say that careers in STEM are not the domains in men – there are many successful women who make careers in these sectors. But because of the socialisation many women actually drop out due to the pressures of what they think is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; that is where I feel we, as a society, need to make an impact.

3. What do you see as the key recruitment & retention?

I see the real challenge in the talent pipeline, there aren’t enough girls choosing STEM careers and the ones who do don’t stay long enough; so the long-term solution is to influence the funnel.
Organisations need to focus on teaming up with community-based organisations to help increase talent pool. We should engage more women and help them understand what a career in technology looks like, and the kind of things they need to build.

We’re trying to solve the problem at that level by helping increase the number of women in the pipeline who are looking to STEM as a career.

The second thing I feel is that we need to have more role models. If you have a larger number of female leaders out there talking about it, more and more women actually begin to take the choice seriously. Also creating an environment where women feel supported is very critical too.

4. How do you believe employers can better attract, secure and retain diverse STEM talent?

Once you bring them in it’s essential that they keep them there. I think, going back to an earlier point I made, we need to ensure women in organisations have the right support systems in place so that they feel part of a broader community. Existing senior women leaders play a big role in encouraging younger talent to come in and reinforce the choices they have made so that they don’t feel that a career in Tech is unsustainable and impacts other life choices adversely.

In Facebook we also encourage employees to get together and talk about the challenges they face and we have set up Employee Resources groups and Lean-in Circles. I think bringing out these honest conversations and having an honest dialogue in a manner that is supported is very important. Facebook prides itself on offering employees market leading benefits, including four months of parental leave for both news moms and dads.

5. What is your advice to diverse talent looking to join or progress within the STEM sector?

Really network a lot; you don’t know what you don’t know, so put the time in to research, learn and connect. There are a number of great non-profits and companies like us who are willing to open their doors and talk about the work being done. Also make sure you are connected to a committed mentor in the industry and get in touch with the organisations that will help de-code what a career in STEM looks like.

Secondly, it’s important to know the area you’d like to become involved with. For anyone, not just women, when considering a career in STEM it’s important to know where you want to specialise. Internships are a great way for you to understand what’s it’s like to work for an organisation and what the expectations are, and so on.

In summary: be bold and break the barriers!

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 heavily reduce the number of women that decide to drop out. There are a number of women in the workforce, in the talent pipeline and currently studying STEM disciplines but there’s a problem of retention – companies get them in but fail to keep them there. I’d reduce this to a very low number. We’re committed to making progress through our own initiatives and in partnership with external organizations.

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