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Women in STEM: Your point of view – a purposeful study

Sara Ferreira

HR consultant Sara Ferreira-Jeffries shares the story behind Purpose HR's fascinating survey of women in STEM, analyses the findings and highlights the importance of diversity in the workplace.

You may already have read about Purpose HR’s recent study on what women* in STEM want from the workplace and how STEM SME employers can better attract female talent.

I thought, however, I would share with you how this study came to be, and how it has shaped my own personal take on the subject.

Background to the study

It all started back in March 2018 when we were approached by one of our clients, Administrate, seeking advice on how to tailor a job advert to attract a more diverse pool of candidates.

As I was responding with suggested approaches to the advert and to their recruitment process, it dawned on me that – not being a STEM professional myself – I was at risk of falling prey to my own blind spots.

I decided to reach out and ask those in my personal network what attracts them (or puts them off) in a job advert to see if any of my STEM female contacts would be willing to lend me their brains to check myself for unconscious biases (we all have them, let’s be honest!).

A good number of women came back to me saying they would love to share their views on how the recruitment process and companies could be made more attractive to them when considering a new employer.

It then became clear to us at Purpose HR that it was important to provide a space for female talent to share their viewpoints and be heard. We outlined a study proposal and Administrate quickly and enthusiastically got behind us, followed shortly after by another of our fast growing clients, Modulr Finance who were equally keen to support this initiative.

When we approached them with a request to help spread the word to potential respondents, Girl Geek Scotland were also enthused, providing valued support and an endorsement to our study.

The next few months were spent designing the survey, carrying out research and organising the launch event which took place in August 2018. The fact that this was fully booked and with a waiting list confirmed to us the high level of industry-wide interest in this topic.

Between August and December, we excitedly watched the survey responses come through and we spent the first quarter of 2019 analysing these results with the help of Stochastic Solutions, culminating in an event to release the results in early April.


The results have been well publicised; more than half of participants said they would prefer to work for SMEs, as they believe they provide more opportunities to have an impact, more opportunities for progression and career development, better team dynamics, and a family-like or community-like environment.

Through conducting this study, we learnt that STEM SMEs can be more attractive to female talent by openly offering flexibility in work styles, opportunities for learning and development, and opportunities for career progression and clear progression paths.

We heard from our respondents that when looking for a job in STEM, female candidates are heavily interested in the career progression and learning opportunities the role offers, as well as the company’s reputation as a good employer.

Our study also allowed us to understand where women in STEM typically look for and find jobs, what aspects of a job advert play an important role in attracting applications from female candidates, and ultimately what makes a company more appealing to female talent.

Diversity – an ethical responsibility

For me, personally, the big take-home was just how much importance women in STEM place on career progression and learning opportunities.

My own perceptions before this study were that women would firstly be more interested in flexible working patterns and work-life balance (I told you everyone has unconscious biases…), but – as I read each individual response to our survey questions – it became clear that women in STEM are ambitious and ever focussed on developing themselves and progressing in the areas they work in.

Don’t get me wrong, flexible working patterns and work-life balance were still highlighted as important factors in promoting work satisfaction. But in the competitive job market that we find in STEM, where recruiting and retaining talented and high calibre staff is a top challenge, it is clearly important that SME employers in these industries take a moment to consider what exciting and innovative opportunities they can offer to their people, regardless of gender.

It is also important that they take some time to understand how their culture – whether deliberately defined or organically formed – is shaping their reputation and employer brand, and how this impacts on the tone and wording used in job adverts and, ultimately, in the diversity of their workplace.

It’s been shown that companies are more profitable and sustainable with gender-balanced teams and leadership, but promoting diversity in the workplace goes beyond profitability; it’s an ethical duty that all employers should make a priority - ensuring equal opportunities and diversity mean more than a few words in a company’s policy.

Sara Ferreira-Jeffries is experienced in developing HR functions and people management with SMEs and entrepreneurial companies. Sara has developed from scratch the HR function of an architecture company, advising and working closely with the business owners and managers to design fit-for-purpose and tailored processes, documentation, and learning and development initiatives. Her background qualifications are in Business Management and Economics, and earlier in her career Sara has set up and developed her own business in communication skills coaching. Sara is an Associate member of the CIPD and she holds a masters qualification in Human Resource Management from Edinburgh Napier University.

Purpose HR is a niche provider of outsourced HR consultancy and services to early stage and high growth businesses in the engineering, life sciences and technology sectors. We work with some of the most exciting and innovative investor backed businesses in Scotland. We are very proud to be part of the first cohort of 20 values led, socially impactful businesses accepted onto the Unlocking Ambition Scottish Enterprise-backed programme for high growth, purpose-driven organisations. 

The full survey report and findings are available to download here.

*By ‘female’ and ‘women’ we mean anyone who does not identify as 'men in STEM', not just strictly women.

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