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March 25, 2024 | 12 Mins Read

6 Actions That Have Spurred One Company’s Success in Hiring More Women into Field Service

March 25, 2024 | 12 Mins Read

6 Actions That Have Spurred One Company’s Success in Hiring More Women into Field Service


If you missed last week’s podcast with Daniel Trabel, Director of Field Service for EMEA at Thermo Fisher Scientific, I urge you to go have a listen now. He speaks passionately about why diversity matters to him, personally as a dad to twin daughters and professionally because he realizes the importance and value it brings. But in field service, a longtime male-dominated field, many companies have struggled to achieve success in hiring more diverse talent, particularly in attracting women to field technician roles.

Daniel has combined is passion for this focus area with a commitment to action that has yielded real results. Reflecting back on our conversation, I can pick up on six actions I believe led to the success that others can (and should) take note of.

#1: Define Your Why

The reality is, far too many companies’ diversity “initiatives” are rooted in the wrong why. Either they feel they “have to” do more in this area, or they’re looking at it solely from the perspective of reaching a bigger talent pool. Both of those things are partial truths, but if your efforts aren’t centered around actually valuing diversity because you believe how it benefits a business, those efforts will almost inevitably fall short.

Daniel, who has spent 20 years in field service, is familiar with the realities of the male-centric history and feels committed to making change, because he believes in its importance. “There is a saying, I think Albert Einstein said, ‘An evening where everybody has the same meaning is a lost evening.’ And that happens when you have a team where everybody has the same background, the same character and everything is the same. We need to have diversity to have high performing teams,” he says.

In field service, this means recognizing the value of diversity is more than the benefit of the comfort of the status quo. “Especially in service, there was a male environment, and it was easy for males to network because everybody speaks the same language, has similar thoughts. But that has to change, because with that, you can't develop further without any input from a set of fresh ideas. We need to change our thoughts and we also need to, in leadership positions, to push the importance. Otherwise, it's difficult to drive the necessary behavior change.”

#2: Get Creative – Really Creative

Where Thermo Fisher succeeded but many companies get stuck is in their willingness to truly get creative in seeking a solution. Even companies who have defined their why can find themselves feeling that the how just “doesn’t work.” Thermo Fisher proves that isn’t at all true, but this mindset can occur for a variety of reasons – some because the company truly doesn’t want to put in the effort it takes to change or step outside of their comfort zone, and some because despite the desire to they find themselves too embedded in their own bias or narrow thinking.

Like many field service organizations, Thermo Fisher company grappled with talent challenges. “That was our starting point. We had a problem to fill roles; few applicants who were not at all qualified for those positions. That’s a big cost for a company like ours. I have an organization of 500 people; if you have an attrition of 5%, imagine how many jobs we have always open. It's a cost, while on the other hand, it's a missing revenue,” he explains. “So, there is a desperate need of having those roles filled as soon as possible. We began having a discussion around the reasons of why we have an all-male environment. We believed as a leadership team that we need to have more women in the organization, and we knew that if we could attract more women, we could create a bigger pool of talents for those open roles.”

To me, this is where Daniel’s story becomes so impressive – because that recognition alone isn’t unique, but the action the company took from that point is. “We really explored the reasons behind why we weren’t attracting female applicants and identified the barriers in the entry expectations of those roles. Typically, what we were looking for is engineers with long experience in the field, electronic skills, all of characteristics of an ‘ideal’ hire,” says Daniel. “We thought about how we could change and how we could create a new kind of entry role to our organization that would fit the business needs. We developed the PIQ engineer role, which is preventative maintenance installation qualification. Because we are in a qualified environment for most of our instruments, this new role cut off the expectations of repair skills and instead focused on first-level support and maintenance aspects, allowing us to get new hires into roles more easily.”

Not only did the creation of this new role reduce the barriers around prior experience for applicants, but it lowered expectations of travel which can deter some candidates. “With the PIQ role we identified hot areas with a smaller radius of travel and less overnight stays. This allowed us to offer more flexibility and a better work-life balance as a result, but interestingly also gave us the opportunity to increase the response time SLA,” Daniel says. Thermo Fisher created six PIQ roles and was successful hiring women to fill four of the six.

To ensure the importance of this initiative was widely accepted, and to incorporate as much creativity as possible, Thermo Fisher involved a variety of stakeholders in the process. “We need to ensure that if we change something which also has an influence on the team, that we include the team in this conversation. Especially those engineers which are already working in the organization. They have some fears that if they only focus on corrective maintenance, that they need to travel longer distances because they don't have the nearby PMs anymore to cover. There were definitely talking points and risks we surfaced and worked through,” Daniel explains. “We also included talent acquisition because they have the conversations up front with the applicants, and HR to understand also from a non-male environment what they think we should think about because, to be honest, in my leadership team at that time, there was only men.”

The exercise Thermo Fisher went through, in truly reflecting on the barriers that were present, really stepping outside of the boundaries of what has been to determine what was possible and involving a group of stakeholders representing different functions and views to ensure as broad of thinking as possible, is commendable. It’s easy to acknowledge an area that needs to change, but far harder to put in the work to make change happen.

As Daniel says, it’s important to focus less on the problem and more on the solution. “It's important to ensure that you understand that you need to change something and really think about how to find a solution. For example, one of our issues in the beginning was around electrical safety; we’d required an electronics background because of guidelines we have to follow, but ultimately decided we could create an internal program to provide that certification with safety officers. There is always a solution. It's important to really step aside, take a step back and say, ‘Okay, that's my problem, but what should my solution looks like and how can I get to that point?’”

How do you know if you’re being creative enough? One measure is that if it feels safe or comfortable, you likely are not. “Maybe you're disruptive and you take a risk. But when you don't change, you will fail from the very beginning,” Daniel cautions. “If you want to change, you must consider there's always a risk. But you need to take the risk. That's absolutely key.”

#3: Enlist External, Objective Input

Even with a genuine belief in the need for change, unconscious bias is a real variable and something you need to consider and prepare to take proactive measures to counter. Enlisting outside help and objective input is essential, and there are many options available for how to do this.

You could hire a consultant, you could leverage technology that helps assess job postings and hiring processes to remove bias, you could poll the participants of an ERG to vet your thinking, and so many more. At Thermo Fisher, they used an external tool to analyze their job ads in the early phases of assessing what was limiting the pool of applicants or what could be off-putting to certain candidates.

“We looked at our job ads because we thought that the jobs were pretty male buzzword-centric,” Daniel says. “So, we used an external tool to analyze those job ads and think of how we can change that in a more human attractive way. And we found words like support, mentor, advocacy, recognition, flexibility, and really try to bring those and also reduce the expectation, the entry expectation. Even if we might have high expectation, we just didn't write that in the job ad. And what's quite interesting because of the results, we had a lot more applicants also from women. That was good.”

Of course, when working to incorporate more diversity, you want to be sure you check bias not only in the job posting and criteria, but in the interview process as well.

#4: Attract More Diverse Candidates; Hire for Fit

Which brings us to the next point – while a genuine objective to improve diversity and actions to attract more candidates are commendable, making “diversity hires” for the sake of achieving some pre-defined targets is not. The goal should be to truly reflect on what barriers are present in your existing processes that are inhibiting diversity and remove those barriers, as well as working to welcome a broader pool of applicants so that your chances to build diverse teams increases. All of that being said, you should be ultimately hiring based on candidates’ skills, abilities, and fit for your organization – not to check a box.

Now, again, where this can derail is if “fit for your organization” is impossible because your organization is refusing to move beyond boxes that exclude certain candidates. But if you are doing the work to change, like Thermo Fisher did, then you hire based on fit from the broader pool of candidates you are attracting.

“We got feedback also on the fact that, let's say, male might apply for a position if there is only 50% criteria they can match with, while women say, no, I'm not able to do this,” Daniels says. “That’s one reason we lowered the entry expectations advertised. We really found great talent and we not just selected the women we did because we were looking for them, they really stood out against the other applicants and they had a strong presentation and a strong background, which fit perfectly into the role as expected.”

While Thermo Fisher set out to intentionally redefine requirements in order to attract more women to apply for field service roles, the benefit of reflecting on what criteria may be restricting your pool of potential candidates is simply attracting a more diverse pool of talent overall. When companies move beyond hiring based on experience, which will deliver a fairly homogenous pool of potential, to instead listing the skills or characteristics sought for entry level, the result is a broader set of backgrounds, experiences, and traits which brings valuable depth of perspective to the organization.

#5: Consider the Experience of New Employees

It’s important that to recognize that your efforts aren’t complete once you achieve success in hiring more diverse employees. In fact, what comes next in many ways is more important – because otherwise your efforts won’t be rewarded by seeing that talent flourish and remain.

When you’ve had a male-centric workforce historically, or minimally diverse in any way, you have to consider what the experiences of the new employees coming into that dynamic will be. Are the existing workers welcoming? Are there toxic aspects of or dynamics to the culture? Are there inadvertent ways a new candidate may feel uncomfortable, such as a woman technician not having the option of a woman’s uniform? From things seemingly small to big, the need to reflect on how to make new candidates feel welcome, included, and valued is imperative.

For Thermo Fisher, the first hurdle was in the way the creation of a new role was perceived by some team members. “In the beginning, there was a bit of a bias from one or the other team members and it took a while to get this digested,” Daniel says. “Because the role was not as seen as a ‘normal’ field service engineer role, it was seen as let’s say second class in some way or another. It took a while to overcome that bias.”

Don’t shirk away from navigating negative emotions or challenging outdated thinking, because this will allow problems to fester that will undoubtedly cause a negative impact on the experiences of your new hires. “In a small team that has a woman as part of it for the first time, there’s going to be some phases of team building to work through,” Daniel shares. “It's the responsibility of the line managers to take care that every friction identified is dealt with and it’s important that the whole management team stand behind this program. That's why we included them in the very beginning. At the end, the whole team appreciates the diversity we have. While this was new for field service, as a company, we embrace employees for inclusion and diversity and have a corporate program where we share success stories and so on. Field service works closely with the sales department and with application support, where we have a lot of women in the organization. We also have ERGs to allow employees to connect with one another. So, there are a lot of touch points, even for a woman in a male-dominated team, to ensure they feel a sense of belonging.”

#6: Focus on Diversity at All Levels

Another often overlooked area of DEI initiatives can be ensuring that diversity is reflected at all levels of the business. For field service, while the focus may be on brining in more frontline candidates to fill roles, those candidates need to be given ample opportunity for career progression.

This is important not only for the development of those individuals and their own fulfillment, but in reflecting the company’s value of diversity of thought by making sure it isn’t concentrated at any one level or in any one function. For Daniel’s team, this happened quite organically – but it’s important to note that in some situations it may require a more intentional approach.

 “Of those six new positions, you have people relatively new to the business that are already progressing into leadership roles. This is important because we need to think about not just how do we bring more diversity into the business, but how do we support and enable that progression, right? So that's one of the challenges we see is because bringing in frontline workers is an acute need for the business, it’s easy to focus all of the efforts there. But ultimately, you want to have diversity reflected in all layers of the business, right? And so, the fact that the people you're bringing in are already progressing through, I think, is really impressive. It’s also interesting to share that our German team is now led by a woman – so the more than 100 engineers are now led by a woman and that’s a massive change. It’s really good to see that.”

Remember What’s at Stake

If I’m being honest, what Daniel sharing Thermo Fisher’s story made me thing is that they’ve been willing to do what many companies find excuses not to – and that’s yielded results. There are all sorts of things people start pointing to – time, effort, cost, what hasn’t worked – to defend their decision to avoid doing the reflection and creative redesign that Thermo has proven pays off.

The companies eluding putting in the effort now are only doing themselves a disservice. While they spend time defending the status quo and accepting minute incremental improvements in hiring, companies like Thermo Fisher are breaking through bias and previously “unmovable” barriers to create roles to attract diverse talent and to develop a culture where that talent can thrive.

I ended the interview asking Daniel: What would you say to the people who are unwilling to get creative with this issue, or maybe don't even yet recognize the importance of it?

“In the end, I think they will fail because they can't unleash the power of people and they can't unleash the power of diversity, which is necessary to be successful,” he says. “When we talk about STEM, there's only a handful of people who can cover open positions and everybody is keen to get someone from somewhere. But if there is no someone, then there is no somewhere. And that's why I think we need to open up the talent pool. If you don't do that, if you are not thinking of changing your plans and your strategy, you will fail. That's my clear statement here.”

I couldn’t agree more.