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STEM industry urged to purposely embrace gender diversity

As South Africa celebrates women’s month this August, the engineering and technology industry is urged to embrace this time as an occasion to look at how organisations can bridge gender diversity in these sectors.

Despite the business case for gender diversity, women remain severely underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields, highlights energy solutions company Schneider Electric.

A 2017 study revealed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity in leadership were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability.

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This is widely understood, and many companies have strong intentions to encourage women into technology and leadership, however, there remains a big disconnect between what is being said, and what is being done.

To truly challenge the status quo, companies need to better assess how they take action towards gender parity. According to Schneider Electric, culture is key.

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Transformation is possible

Fifteen years ago, women at Schneider Electric represented just 5% of its top 1,000 leaders. Today, women make up 23% of the company’s global leadership, and 36% of its board members are women.

Further, three of the company’s five major country regions are led by female executive committee members. While there is still progress to be made, the business has experienced success by prioritising creating a culture in which diversity thrives and everyone feels included.

This has included internal hidden bias learning programmes to educate employees on how to be more inclusive, flexibility at work programmes, and everyone covered by global family leave programmes.

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Encouraging women in the field

“Diversity makes us a better company; it helps us understand issues from perspectives we haven’t considered before. And we’re more creative as a result,” explains Angel Myeza, Vice President (Field Services) – Anglophone Africa, Schneider Electric. Myeza is a qualified mechatronics engineer and found her interest in STEM after a high school career expo.

“Exposing young women to technology careers is invaluable in encouraging more women into the industry. When technology-related career opportunities come up, women are not first to mind. We typically take up softer, supportive roles, and we have accepted this stereotype. I see too many female colleagues second guessing themselves, downplaying their perspectives and expertise, where in fact this should be celebrated,” states Myeza.

She adds: “Diversity, in my opinion, is exactly where our strengths lie. We need to be unapologetic about the change we want to see in our environment.”

Access to information helps

Nobuhle Mzobe, channel marketing manager at Schneider Electric South Africa, also had her interest in technology piqued at a career expo. “I was lucky to be exposed to the idea of an engineering career early in life. I was introduced to the concept and went on to get my B.Tech in Electrical and Electronics Engineering,” she explains.

“Aside from the gender stereotypes regarding ‘suitable professions’, I think much of the problem in achieving gender parity lies in a lack of information. Companies need to get out there and expose the younger – female – generation to what kind of technology careers are available to them. Engineering is a broad field and I don’t think this is widely understood by university applicants,” says Mzobe.

In conclusion, the energy solutions company points out that there are huge positives for any organisation that perseveres towards gender parity, adding that “in an increasingly complex business environment, finding a way to blend diversity in thought and ideas not only makes an organisation more human, more competitive, and more fun, but it might be the only way to achieve sustained business success.”

Babalwa Bungane
Babalwa Bungane is the content producer for ESI Africa - Clarion Events Africa. Babalwa has been writing for the publication for over five years. She also contributes to sister publications; Smart Energy International and Power Engineering International. Babalwa is a social media enthusiast.