Stem women prefer smaller firms to large corporations

Women working in Scotland’s Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) sector overwhelmingly prefer to work for smaller companies where they feel able to make a difference, new research suggests.

From left: Kate Avery of Modulr, Lisa Thomson of Purpose HR and John Peebles of Administrate. Picture: Stewart Attwood.
From left: Kate Avery of Modulr, Lisa Thomson of Purpose HR and John Peebles of Administrate. Picture: Stewart Attwood.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) may be better able to achieve gender equality in Stem professions than their larger rivals, with 55 per cent of women saying they would be more likely to choose a small firm where they perceive their work as having an impact, according to a survey released by Edinburgh-based consultancy Purpose HR.

Just 20 per cent said they would prefer to be employed by a large corporation.

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The gender balance report, in conjunction with Edinburgh-headquartered software firm Administrate, fintech Modulr, and networking organisation Girl Geek Scotland, interviewed several hundred women working in Stem.

The survey found that clear opportunities for progression and better team dynamics, or a “community-like environment”, were also popular reasons for women preferring to work for an SME.

Respondents highlighted openly offering flexibility in hours, visible opportunities for learning and development, and clear career progression as key ways for SMEs to make themselves even more attractive to female workers.

Salary ranked fourth highest on the list of priorities when searching for a new job, with 25 per cent, while career progression took top spot (35 per cent), followed by company reputation (32 per cent) and learning opportunities (29 per cent).

This comes as MSPs vow to help tackle the skills gap by examining the impact of Stem teaching in early years education through a Holyrood committee inquiry.

Only 23 per cent of people employed in Stem across the UK are women, according to the WISE Campaign, which encourages women and girls to value and pursue science, technology, engineering and maths-related education.

Lisa Thomson, founder of Purpose HR, which specialises in supporting early stage technology, engineering and life sciences clients, said: “SMEs will be encouraged to see that a majority of women in Stem would prefer to work for this kind of company - with SMEs being perceived as making greater impact and being more innovative.

“At the same time, the survey shows that SMEs could be doing a lot more to make themselves desirable to female applicants - our report contains concrete insights into how SMEs can do better to attract and retain female candidates.”

Lynne Cadenhead, chair of Women’s Enterprise Scotland, added: “We need collaborative and concerted action from employers, SMEs and large organisations alike, to work towards true gender balance.

“This won’t happen overnight, but as this report indicates, small changes can have a big impact in driving forward gender balance in Stem.”