By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service
With service organizations struggling across industries and geographies with staffing and recruitment, creating a more diverse workforce is a critical step just to make sure there are enough technicians, trainers and managers on the team to keep up with demand. Moreover, companies who understand diversity as the driver it is for greater creativity, innovation, and customer appeal recognize that the reasons to put it (and keep it) in focus goes far beyond meeting today’s staffing needs.
Yet as it relates particularly to the area of gender diversity, field service seems to struggle. Organizations remain largely managed and staffed by men, with what seems to be an agreement that recruiting and retaining women in service jobs is key but challenging. Leading organizations are getting creative in not only reflecting on their role definitions, job descriptions, and recruiting practices but also in some cases re-imagining what the role could look like to increase appeal. And they are, of course, always open to advice and insights to help their efforts.
To that end, we’ve asked some advice from UK-based engineer, Lauren Neal. Lauren has recently published a book called Valued at Work: Shining a Light on Bias to Engage, Enable and Retain Women in STEM and is also the founder at Chief Programme Creator of Valued at Work. Lauren has worked in the energy sector since 2005 offshore, onshore and onsite, most recently at bp.
After her years of experience, she feels strongly that gender equity is far from where it should be. Her book shares real stories from women working in STEM and presents a look at some of the challenges women face as well as advice for strategies for managers to help improve things.
Here Lauren shares some insight about retaining women in STEM and technical professions as well as field service.
For background, can you explain what led you to engineering, and how your experience working in that field shaped the writing of this book?
I always enjoyed math and computing at school and finding solutions to problems. I studied Electronic and Electrical Engineering, specialising in computer engineering, at university, then as I lived in Aberdeen, I ended up working in the energy industry. Now I’ve worked in energy for over 18 years and while I have had my share of experiences with bias and behaviours, it wasn’t until I started opening up to others that I noticed trends, particularly when people from under-recognised groups hit mid-career. I decided I wanted to use my voice to raise the profile of this issue as so many aren’t aware it is still happening today.
What are some of the elements in traditionally male-dominated STEM and technical fields that make recruiting and retaining women challenging? Are those things changing as we shift from one generation of managers to another?
I think recruitment can be challenging due a lack of women role-models at different levels – it’s difficult to see a career path for ‘someone like you’ when there isn’t anyone like you there. Retention is another issue entirely. Women face disrespectful comments on their competency, bias on their behaviours (even if they do the same as a man would), and often gate-keeping from other women! You can have the most confident and competent women joining organizations, but if they aren’t included in their teams, they will leave. I don’t think these things are changing very quickly, as too many aren’t aware they are happening in the first place.
In field service, there is a staffing struggle in general -- there are not a lot of young men entering the field for a variety of reasons either, so organizations are trying to cast a wider net. What are some ways organizations can adjust their recruitment/retention strategies to make the field more attractive to women?
Illustrating clear career paths and progression would help. If it were me, I would want to know where my career could take me (i.e., is there travel?), what typical roles could I get now and next, what are my options for moving forward – can I change disciplines, can I lead or manage others, etc.? I would like to hear from others about their biggest challenges and successes in their roles. Also, listing a likely salary along the career path would also help.
The majority of managers/leaders at these types of companies, today, are men. What are some of the challenges in shifting the mindset and processes at organizations to take a new approach to recruitment/retention, or even recognize there is a problem in the first place?
I think most people have experienced being excluded – say if you’re trying to order a drink at the bar and the bartender continues to ignore you. It’s not a great feeling. I have met some brilliant men in my career who were completely oblivious to the experiences of women, sometimes in their own team. Women don’t often speak up about it as they wonder if it's ‘just them’ and definitely don’t want a label saying they are ‘difficult’ or ‘noisy’. Without being told about an issue, how would you know it’s happening?
What are some key strategies for retaining women in these fields once they have been hired?
For any change, it starts with acknowledging the real issues – these are the behaviours they experience (from both men and women), whether women are utilized for only admin or their specialist technical skills, and hindrances in their career development to leadership roles. And the best place to start? Have real conversations with these women to find out what they are experiencing, and acknowledge that it will be different from your experience.
Diversity efforts can fall prey to not being well designed or executed, or face pushback. How best can a company frame these efforts to get buy-in and gain traction?
I like to start with why DEI efforts are required – for example, sharing the studies that show diverse teams perform better and are more profitable for the business. Showing the cost of recruitment to replace people who have left the company and how poor behaviours can contribute to this. I also like to get everyone involved. Lots of companies have safety observation quotas to meet (e.g., one observation per month) but I would love to see inclusion observations being recorded. This is something very simple to get everyone involved and start testing how well they understand inclusion.