A strong threat of quotas and transparency amongst businesses is necessary to move the dial on gender diversity in Science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) roles, according to a panel of experts at the WISE Conference 2015.

Speaking at the event, which took place at The Mermaid in Blackfriars, Trudy Norris-Grey, WISE Chair and managing director of Microsoft’s public sector business said: “If I get given a target at work, I go after it. If you get a diversity target and continue to review the target, then you start to get a change in the culture. It’s not for fairness sake, but for business. A target should be put on the agenda and the numbers should be published.WISE_awards_logo

“Tokenism is a thing of the past. Business now there is a war for talent, so a target is a good start to encourage the women to line up for these great roles and they intern will become role models for other girls. I have an allergic reaction to anything mandatory. However, businesses need a very open threat. If you don’t do it, I will impose quotas. Do it or we’ll come in with the legislation.”

Naomi Climer, President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), agreed and said: “I’d make it mandatory – it’s been voluntary for decades and it hasn’t changed. I’d love to do it in an evolutionary way, but I’m running out of patience.

“A threat of quotas is pretty powerful.”

According to Allan Cook, non-executive director of WS Atkins the targets set by Lord Davies are a good example of targets that work.

Lord Davies published a report for the government in 2011 recommending that the boards of UK FTSE 100 companies should comprise a minimum of 25% women by the end of 2015 – a target which is on track. He also suggested that all companies should set targets to ensure more women at board level.

Cook said: “The ones who are not sure about it are the dinosaurs who are way back, because it’s a business imperative now.

“I’m against quotas, but we haven’t got the pipeline stuffed yet. If we make it into a quota system I think it will backfire on us.”

The panel was chaired by Bloomberg co-anchor, Anna Edwards. During the event Catherine Mayer, co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party, said: “Quotas are just a short term thing to get somewhere – a mechanism to get there. Then it’s important to develop and retain the people you get in through quotas. Quotas are a mechanism not an answer.

“A threat is needed rather than an immediate inquisition, but then to discuss how to retain those women throughout all stages of their careers.”

Shashi Watson, Senior Researcher at Winton Capital said she is “absolutely against quotas”.

She continued: “It’s just about letting girls know what’s out there as there will be stigma around the companies with quotas and people working there will feel like they’re being done a favour.”

Norris-Grey said she is against quotas but “prefers incentives, such as if you’re bidding for a government contract you should have some kind of diversity incentives, tax credits, etc to encourage more men and women to take up jobs that we can’t fill by the way.”

Climer agreed with incentives when bidding for contracts and said: “Make a criteria when choosing a bidder for example when I worked at Sony it was easy for me to do that in Japan, because to work with BskyB they have certain environmental criteria before you can get their business and work with them.”

“We need greater transparency in promotions, stats and pay. Businesses need to publish their gender statistics – if everyone did this it would raise the issue up on people’s agenda.”

Norris-Grey also suggested that targets should be for apprenticeships: “The government has declare its support for three million more apprenticeships, however I think at least one in three of those should be women. This will remove the biasness at the beginning to save us unravelling it in the future.”

Sex Discrimination Act 40th anniversary

Yesterday Climer, Trudy Norris-Grey, Mayer along with Christine Flounders

Research and Development Manager in London, Bloomberg wrote an open letter to the Financial Times and the London Evening Standard highlighting the 40th anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Act being passed in the UK.

The letter said: “We applaud the progress that has been made since.

But in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), progress remains slow. Women make up just 14 per cent of the UK’s STEM workforce. We want to see this be nearer 30 per cent by 2020.

The letter calls on government to create strong public policy: “We challenge the government to provide a clear commitment to accelerate diversity in our STEM industries.

“We cannot afford to wait another forty years to achieve this change.”