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How can we attract more women into STEM careers?

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At Ford of Britain, just 9% of the workforce is female. In this exclusive interview, we speak to their executive director of HR, Jane Skerry, about overcoming the skills shortages in engineering, their aim to inspire more young people into STEM careers – especially girls – and launching their ‘Ford Prize for Women in STEM study’ initiative.

How many employees do you look after, over how many locations and what’s the annual turnover?

Just over 10,000 employees across a number of UK locations including Brentwood, Bridgend, Dagenham, Daventry, Dunton, Halewood, Southampton and Warley.

The staff turnover is less than 1%.

What is the ratio of male vs female talent at Ford?

Just over 9% of our workforce is female but this varies across different functions. Like many organisations, we experience a smaller pool of female candidates in the STEM related skill teams such as engineering and manufacturing.

 

Why is it important to have a diverse workforce?

At Ford, we believe that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success. I know that I draw on my professional and personal experiences regularly in work; my experiences as a student, a mother, an employee on international assignment, and the idea of equivalent but different experiences coming from each of our employees in the workplace is so powerful.

Interacting with people who offer fresh new perspectives can teach you how to broaden your horizons, find creative ways to solve problems, even identify new markets, products or business opportunities. Diverse teams provide unique viewpoints which can challenge established thinking and come up with creative solutions. Diversity is good for individuals, teams and the organisation; it makes things interesting.

What are your top tips for HR leaders looking to champion diversity and attract more female talent into their organisations?

Diversity and inclusion are core principles of our whole organisation, not just HR. Creating an inclusive work environment that leverages the diversity and talent of our workforce is a responsibility that falls on all of us. We have fantastic engagement from our employees across our operations, who together with our Diversity Committees and Employee Resource Groups, deliver a wide-range of initiatives and events throughout the year.

How are you empowering your leaders to inspire young people, especially girls, into engineering careers?

We’re increasing the numbers of mentors and ambassadors and getting more and more of our leaders actively involved in initiatives.
We have employees working with children from local schools and colleges in mentoring schemes, engineering projects to build battery operated go-karts and racing cars, and business projects where they can apply their studies to practical workplace situations. Our managers really enjoy the experience and find it very rewarding.

How is Ford supporting and raising recognition for women in STEM careers? What steps are you taking?

Together with the government, educators and a number of other organisations in the UK, we signed up to the “Your Life” pledge; a campaign to engage with young people and to increase the number of women in STEM careers. As part of our “Your Life” pledge we are increasing the number of mentors and ambassadors we have that can be role models for young people, in particular girls.

We are promoting STEM through a variety of initiatives in partnership with schools and colleges and various other groups, for example:

  • We recently held a “bring your daughter to work” event in Dunton
  • We’re actively involved in local schools promoting our apprenticeship programmes – craft apprenticeships, engineering and IT apprenticeships – and offering work placement opportunities
  • We also run a number of local initiatives; we run a “Saturday Club” in Bridgend, where over a 12-week period school children from the local area are taught basic engineering processes and skills with a view to generating interest in future engineering career opportunities

Tell me more about the ‘Ford Prize for Women in STEM study’ – why did you launch this initiative?

Ford like so many engineering employers faces difficulties recruiting engineers – there are real skill shortages in engineering.

At Ford, we have different work streams aimed at ensuring we have a pipeline of talent for the future – for example, working with schools to promote science and engineering and encouraging young people to pursue maths and science at GCSE and A Level.

In addition, we wanted to create a prize that would not only acknowledge the achievements of women in STEM but also those who encourage more young women to become involved in STEM subjects. We are looking for women who can demonstrate their enthusiasm and commitment by promoting STEM; that may be through running extra-curricular STEM clubs within primary schools, or providing STEM leadership in young people’s organisations such as scouts or guides. The £1,000 cash prize will be awarded to a female student, about to enter her first year of a STEM degree, who can demonstrate how they are inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers and technologists.

What business results do you hope to see and have you set any targets to measure the proportion of female workers in your organisation?

Businesses need talent and we want to attract the best talent to our business. Engaging and inspiring more young people into STEM careers and growing the talent pool is key to our resourcing plans.

You recently held a ‘bring your daughter to work’ event – what feedback did you receive from the students and your employees?

For many years Ford has held bring your child to work activities for both boys and girls. This year we had a special event focused on daughters and also their friends. We know that girls who pursue science and engineering careers more often have a close relative in a STEM job. Therefore by extending to friends of our employees children we aimed to reach young people who may not have had the same exposure to careers within engineering.

We had 50 female students, aged between 14-18years old, who were able to get a real insight into automotive engineering. The event included a tour of our facilities at the Dunton Technical Centre in Essex, a keynote speech by Barb Samardzich, our COO, on her career path as an engineer and a type of ‘speed-networking’ activity, where the students could meet some of our female engineers.

The feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive, from both the students and the employees. It was a great learning opportunity with the students not only able to see for themselves in the type of work we do, but also being able to speak to female engineers and get, first-hand, what it’s really like to be an engineer and what that means.

Sarah Clark

By Sarah Clark

Changeboard

Online features editor at Changeboard

Changeboard

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