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Why skills in art, not just STEM, also matter for engineering firms

Scientist at work in lab [Courtesy]

According to a recent report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), only 35 per cent of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students in higher education globally are women.

The gaping gender gap is especially concerning when we consider that STEM careers are referred to as the jobs of the future.

This year, the United Nations seeks to promote ‘Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow’ by highlighting the contribution of women and girls around the world who are promoting their communities and building a more sustainable future for everyone.

At Eaton, we believe a sustainable future can be achieved through attracting, developing, and engaging a diverse pipeline of young talent in our organisation. If you build a team with a diverse range of personal and professional backgrounds, you suddenly start having much more creative solutions to problems.

This is where the real innovation happens. It is therefore important to embrace talent from all backgrounds and promote a broad range of career development opportunities that people can explore.

When people think of STEM employers, there is often the expectation that all of our employees come from traditional STEM backgrounds, with years of technical training, but this is not the case.

To take Eaton as an example, while we are an engineering company, we are focused on looking beyond the obvious to support our business with a diverse set of important skills. We have recognised that we need to expand our view of what STEM talent looks like, by attracting talent from a broad range of backgrounds, including incorporating a fresh perspective into our teams to help find more creative solutions to problems and foster innovation.

We call this the STE[a]M approach with the ‘a’ standing for Arts. STEM skills are, of course, hugely important and should be encouraged but the beauty of STE[a]M is that it promotes problem solving, communication, analytics, creativity, and teamwork capabilities. All highly transferrable skills that open the doors to many possibilities across industries and functions.

Put into practice in our business, when we are developing new products or services, we don’t just want products that work efficiently for our customers; we need them to go above and beyond in terms of user experience too. Aesthetics play a huge part in product or service development for exactly this reason, so we actively recruit people from art and design backgrounds.

However, as an industry, much more needs to be done to ensure we are recruiting from a wide pool of talent. As is often the case, this work needs to start early. It is, therefore, vital that we engage with girls at primary and secondary school levels to raise the visibility of STE[a]M subjects as a potential career trajectory.

School and university students are too often taught that a STEM career involves them studying a certain subject, whether it’s maths, engineering, or science. Our experience has taught us that if you build a team with a diverse range of personal and professional backgrounds you see a rapid transformation in solutions to problems.

Companies should aim to break the gender bias by exploring different approach and creative ways to bridge the gap for a sustainable future. For managers wanting these kinds of innovative thinkers, it is crucial they also think outside of the box when it comes to recruitment.