More women in STEM leadership – and what this means for business

There are more women in STEM c-suite roles than ever before. This year already, we’ve seen Scottish Engineering appoint its first female President and Vice-President, and ScotRail hire its first woman COO as it transitions to a new public body.

As a consultant who’s been recruiting for the boardrooms of engineering firms for over 30 years, these appointments feel like a particular turning point (although a very late one, and there’s much more work to be done).

In an ideal world, of course it shouldn’t matter that these important positions are occupied by women. But women still only represent 15% of the engineering workforce, and men still far outnumber women in decision-making positions, so it really does matter.

And while change is certainly happening, it’s happening slowly – and it’s not just a problem in STEM industries either. Representation of women in c-suite roles has increased from just 17% in 2015 to 21% in 2021. And today, just 5% of all CEOs are women.

What more women leaders means for business

With the hope that this really does mark a pivotal moment for STEM, I thought I’d take a look at why having more women in leadership roles is so important, and what impact gaining more women in c-suite roles will have on business.

Better diversity – key to closing the skills gap

Talking diversity might seem like stating the obvious here, but it’s worth highlighting that appointing more women in the boardroom doesn’t just mean better representation at the top.

More women in management also has a huge impact on diversity hires throughout the whole company. This is why any business that’s trying to make company-wide changes with regards to diversity should consider starting with the boardroom first.

More women in these top jobs also leads to better roles models for young women getting into STEM, especially those just entering the job market. As I mentioned in a recent blog on the engineering talent shortage, only 24% of STEM graduates are moving into degree-relevant roles after graduating.

Women continue to be extremely underrepresented in STEM and striving to hire more women into top jobs in engineering, cloud computing and data roles should be on every hiring team’s agenda. Making a future look tangible for ambitious women in STEM is key to closing the skills gap.

Higher profits

If you think bringing more women into executive positions at your company would be purely a matter of ethics, there’s a lot of interesting data around that might surprise you.

Did you know that businesses with more women in leadership roles are now proven to perform better and make more money too?

One reputable study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that having 30% or more women in leadership positions adds 6% to net profit margins. For every 10% added to gender diversity, another report by Mckinsey found this added 3.5% to net profits.

Better performance

One reason businesses with more female leaders generate more profit is due to higher levels of innovation.

A study of Fortune 500 businesses found that those companies with women in top management produce 20% more patents. Women CEOs make up just 6.4% of Fortune 500 companies, but those that boast more women in leadership far outperform those in the list that don’t.

To say women-lead businesses outperform male-lead ones wouldn’t be such a radical statement today, but it might’ve been even just a few years ago.

The global response to the pandemic made it glaringly clear that we need more women in decision-making roles, as those countries with female-lead governments coped remarkably better with the crisis.

Better places to work

Every year, Fortune releases a list of the world’s ‘most admired’ companies. Something worth noting about all the companies on the list from this year is that they have almost twice as many women in senior management than less reputable companies.

Companies lead by women aren’t just good for business – they’re good for employees too. Research has shown that organizations with more women leaders have a better workplace environment: There’s more transparency, better communication, and the workplace is more purpose-driven.

And if you have employees who are more engaged, inspired and satisfied as a result, this makes hiring and retaining staff a lot easier.

If all of this isn’t enough food for thought, how about the fact that half of Americans (including 46% of men) would prefer to work for a female CEO?

A sign of good things to come?

With all these statistics in mind, it’s clearly crucial that STEM industries recognise the societal and commercial benefits of promoting women into these important decision-making roles.

Let’s hope that these recent female c-suite appointments for Scottish Engineering and ScotRail are a sign of good things to come across STEM industries more broadly.

If you’re struggling to attract more women to your roles and diversify your organization’s workforce, please get in touch as this is something Lusona can certainly support you with.

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