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The woefully low numbers of women in STEM careers could be boosted, simply by companies changing how their recruitment process is handled, reports ethical recruitment company, Applied.

Their research has revealed that when job applicants are assessed based on role-relevant skills rather than CVs, almost 70% more women are hired into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) roles.

Their study involved tracking the gender split of over 400 candidates hired into STEM roles by 56 companies in the UK, USA and Australia. Instead of using CVs or cover letters, all of the candidates in the study secured their roles following an anonymised recruitment process that used assessments designed to test the specific skills needed for the job.

Following this approach, 40% of the candidates hired into STEM roles were women. This marks a 66% increase on the UK average, where women make up just 24% of people working in STEM. Men accounted for 50% of successful STEM hires in the study. The remaining participants identified as non-binary or chose not to disclose their gender.

Female candidates had a particularly high success rate in Product Development roles, where women secured 75% of the jobs analysed. Over half of Statistician roles (59%) and Data Scientist roles (56%) were also secured by women.

What does skills based recruitment mean for candidates?

Khyati Sundaram, expert on skills-based recruitment and CEO of Applied said:

“Candidates currently searching for jobs in Science or STEM more widely mustn’t let the historical underrepresentation of women deter them from applying. Plenty of ethical, inclusive employers hiring for roles in STEM are making moves towards skills-based hiring to ensure you get a fair chance to succeed, including pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and MSD, as well as Satellite Applications Catapult (who hire for roles based in space technologies and science) and Health Data Research UK (which employs data scientists). Here’s how to find them, and how to prepare for a skills-based hiring process.”

How to spot a skills-focused STEM employer

  1. Research the hiring process

Lots of employers are switching to skills-based hiring processes – including those who hire for roles in science, who know the value of empirical and accurate methods better than anyone. An anonymous, skills-based approach is skills-based approach is 3x more accurate than CV screening.

To find them, research prospective employers first to find out how they hire and what processes they use. Take a one-click CV submission system as a red flag. And if it’s not clear whether your application will be reviewed anonymously, or how you will be assessed later down the line, reach out to the company’s hiring team to inquire.

  1. Check out the hiring team

An easy way to assess a company’s recruitment process is to look at their team, either on LinkedIn or their website. If the team is diverse – senior management included – this is often a good sign of an ethical recruitment process. If everyone is the same age, ethnicity or gender, this might suggest that their recruitment process isn’t as fair as it could be.

But this isn’t a fail-safe vetting system. So, whilst researching online, take into account any efforts that companies are making to diversify, too. Maybe they offer internships and mentor schemes for women and marginalised groups? The key thing to distinguish between companies paying lip service to DEI, and those that are actively trying to make a difference.

  1. Dig into the hiring company culture 

Lip service aside, looking at how a company markets themselves and talks about their culture – whether through newsletters, social media accounts, media articles or blogs on their website – can help you gauge their values.

Is ethical hiring genuinely on their agenda? Do they talk about inclusion and diversity – and then show how they’re supporting the cause?  Do they truly seem to care about creating equal opportunities? Interviews also offer a good opportunity to ask what strategies and initiatives are being employed to this end.

How to prepare for a skills-based hiring process

  1. Don’t rely on your CV to reflect your skills 

In a skills-based hiring process, CVs don’t count for much. This is because proxies on a CV (such as names or academic background) can lead employers to make unfair assumptions about a candidate’s abilities.

Instead, skills-based hiring processes will require you to apply your skills and knowledge to questions and scenarios directly relevant to the role you’re applying for. You should still make sure your CV is up to date and typo-free. But you won’t need to know your employment history by heart or talk about it much during your interview.

  1. Be ready to answer work ‘sample’ questions

Work samples are often incorporated into application forms in place of CVs in skills-based processes, and ask candidates questions based on real, role-specific scenarios. This means that core skills count for far more than past experience.

To prepare, read the job description of the role you’re applying for carefully, and think about the different skills that will be required in different situations. For example, a research scientist might need an analytical mind when carrying out investigations. Then, ask a friend to create mock work sample questions to practise demonstrating these skills in writing. If you’ll need strong mathematical skills, it’s worth practising numerical aptitude tests online, too. These tests might feature alongside work samples, or come later in the hiring process.

  1. How to prepare for a structured interview 

A structured interview is where all candidates are asked the same questions in the same order. This helps standardise interviews so that like can be compared with like.

Questions used in structured interviews are designed to find out whether candidates have the skills needed for the job at hand, rather than what interviewers have in common with them. This means that you won’t be asked about your personal background or interests outside of work, and won’t have to make small talk! Instead, prepare for work sample questions, hypothetical case studies, and job simulation tasks (this might include conducting data analysis or safe laboratory practice for STEM roles).

  1. Don’t doubt your skills and abilities

Skills-based hiring processes are specifically designed to ensure that your abilities and talents shine through, and to ensure that you and the role are the best fit possible. So, try to trust in the process.

If you don’t get hired this time around, take comfort in the fact that when you do get your dream STEM role, it will be one which enables you to fulfil your fullest potential, and hopefully one which you will want to stay in for a long time. If you suspect the hiring process wasn’t entirely fair, know that this might be in your best interests if you want to work for an ethical and inclusive employer.

About Applied

  • The Applied platform uses anonymised applications and predictive, skill-based assessments to identify the best talent. 60% of candidates hired through Applied would be overlooked during traditional CV sifts.
  • Over 15,000 candidates have been successfully hired through the platform so far. In this time, Applied has seen female hires increase by up to 200%, and minority ethnic hires increase by up to 300%.
  • Organisations already using Applied to build fairer recruitment systems for STEM candidates include pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and MSD, as well as Satellite Applications Catapult (who hire for roles based in space technologies and science) and Health Data Research UK (which employs data scientists).