A culture of inclusion can drive more women into STEM apprenticeships

14 May 2019, 5:00

UK business needs to create a virtuous circle of positive change, says Ben Farmer, with successful women becoming inspirational role models for the next generation of builders, innovators and inventors

The UK’s ongoing STEM skills shortage is a key issue for employers such as Amazon. Vacancies for highly skilled technical roles will double over the next decade, while 89 per cent of businesses are already struggling to recruit for STEM roles.

Attracting more women and girls into these careers is rightly seen as part of the solution.

The benefits of a diverse workforce are abundant, for employers and employees Our recent research, in partnership with WISE, polled 1,000 women working in STEM and found that a 10 per cent increase of women in STEM careers would lead to a £3 billion boost for UK business.

We also found that on average women in innovation earn up to £11,000 a year more than in other careers.

However, we also found that more than a quarter of women currently working in innovation had experienced more barriers than enablers in their careers, including a lack of confidence, having to adapt to male-dominated work environments and a lack of recognition from senior colleagues.

With these challenges in mind, it is apparent that our culture – within businesses and across wider society – must be considered as a key driver for change. The innovation and technology industries now have a deep understanding of the relationship between innovation and diversity.

In simple terms, diversity is integral to a robust creative and problem solving process – and innovation drives the technology sector.

The benefits of a diverse workforce are abundant

Anyone considering an apprenticeship should be reassured that they offer high-quality training, financial sustainability and a range of career options, regardless of gender or background. For example we recently announced plans to create 1,000 new apprenticeships, with pay ranging from an entry-level starting salary of £9.50 an hour (£10.50 in London) and up to £30,000 a year. We also offer employee discounts, private medical insurance and a company pension plan.

We’re backing up these opportunities with Amazon Amplify, initiatives designed to increase the number of women working in innovation.

This includes our Women in Innovation bursary, providing funding of more than £130,000 a year for 24 female students, new global candidate inclusive interview questions, plus a UK-wide interactive training programme to build confidence, networks and personal skills.

We also became a signatory to the WISE Ten Steps Commitments (something I’d recommend for all businesses concerned with these challenge), a framework to help organisations improve the recruitment, retention and progression of women.

While apprenticeships are vital, we also need to create a pipeline for STEM careers. For example, we offer free tours of our fulfilment centres for children and we have launched Camp Amazon, accredited by the British Science Association, which inspires young people to think and behave like scientists and engineers while taking part in real-world STEM projects.

Businesses need to tailor their solutions according to their organisational goals and resources.

But there are common themes for any employer that genuinely seeks to accommodate everybody in their workplace: fully-funded apprenticeships and internships, flexible career pathways, flexible and remote working, return-to-work programmes, formal retraining opportunities, mentoring, peer support and robust HR policies.

Championing women working in STEM careers is one part of the solution – for example, it has been great to see how the government’s Fire It Up campaign portrays women in STEM through positive imagery and role models.

We also work hard to share and celebrate the success stories of our own women working in innovation, such as Fiona McDonnell, Jacqui Chin, Lauren Kisser and Lauren Gemmell, who were named in the FT’s HERoes list, and Katie George who was named in the EMPower list.

These female leaders have not only helped to inspire our employees, but also helped to change how young women perceive technical, apprenticeships and careers.

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