Article by Kelly Olsen, Chief Operating Officer, SThree

man and woman discussing tech, women in tech, computers, codeEvents of the last eight months have sparked a drastic change across all industries, and all geographies.

Our insight shows that acceleration of digital transformation, rebuilding supply chain resilience, and the future of work in a world of remote working are the top concerns for STEM businesses globally.

SThree has been positioned at the centre of STEM, and flexible working for years. When the COVID-19 outbreak began, I wondered whether the mass move to remote working could be the equaliser we have been waiting on in STEM. In a new working environment where the pandemic has changed a lot of the rules, the playing field should be levelling out in a way we have never seen before.

Even though access to STEM careers has improved for women, institutional issues still exist. For example, according to figures from WISE women make up just a quarter of the UK’s STEM workforce, and only 17% of tech roles are currently filled by women. Additionally, research conducted by the Royal Academy of Engineering has found that just 12% of engineers in the UK are women and they earn, on average, around 11% less than their male counterparts.

Our latest data shows that while 75% of clients are actively hiring in some way, 70% felt that finding the right talent is a challenge.  Interestingly, our research has also found that job applications are up as much as 300% in some regions, compared to 2019, arguably leading to a much more competitive environment.

Tapping into new talent pools

We know that the world was facing a serious STEM skills crisis before COVID-19 and this issue has only been exacerbated by the ongoing health pandemic.

Businesses need to consider tapping into new talent pools, including career switchers, remote workers, and demographic groups that get hit disproportionately in economic downturns. Alternatively, they must become more competitive in compensation, benefits, and protection against health risks to attract and retain a more diverse set of talent that can keep their business working.

But the responsibility to take on new ways of working is not all on organisations. As women, we should also be considering the skills that we bring to the table, and where these could be in demand outside of our traditional career field. For example, we’ve seen an increase in clients asking us to screen for soft skills like resilience because they know this is a key trait when joining a new team remotely.

With the widespread adoption of digital tools, talent from diverse backgrounds is more accessible than ever. But with this opportunity, also comes the challenge of providing the right tech and tech skills.

Unlocking digital skills

We have witnessed digital transformation plans with 18-month time frames being turned around in just one month because of COVID-19 – with digitalisation budgets being ringfenced by CEOs, CFOs, CTOs, and COOs on a large scale.

Globally, job opportunities in the tech sector are expected to grow by 120% in the next decade with a focus on cloud computing, machine learning and AI.  Our insights have also showed that IoT, AI, machine learning, automation, and robotics will be instrumental for industries that cannot operate remotely.

Additionally, as businesses are prioritising employee and customer journeys from a digital-first point of view, virtual will become the new physical, permanently. This means that IT jobs will be the most in-demand over the next six months and that the requirement for roles in development, infrastructure, DevOps, and security will see the most growth.

Considering all of this information together leads me to believe that businesses will need both tech and the right mindset to truly take advantage of the unique opportunities that we’re facing right now.

What’s the risk if we don’t?

The lack of diversity, including gender diversity, in STEM has a considerable financial impact. According to, the UK STEM skills shortage is costing businesses an estimated £1.5bn a year. And figures from WISE predict that increasing the number of women working in STEM careers by just 10% could boost the UK economy by £3billion.

At SThree, we work with some of the most critical talent helping pull us through the COVID-19 pandemic, whether that’s though manufacturing, infrastructure and food tech, or life sciences where people are doing the research that have ultimately helped us find a vaccine. We also believe that great minds don’t think, look or act alike so we work with organisations to bring diversity of thought to the world’s greatest challenges.

One of the key themes that has come out of our #STEMSeries virtual events is a sense that while the pandemic has been incredibly tough for individuals and businesses, it’s also a possibility for us to build back better. To really assess our ways of working, ways of thinking and ways of acting and making positive changes that will change the world forever. Now is our chance to level the playing field – once and for all.

About the author

Kelly OlsenKelly Olsen is the Chief Operating Officer at SThree plc, the only global pure-play STEM recruitment company. She oversees the global IT and Operations functions at SThree, having joined the company from global professional services firm RPS, where she worked as Chief Information Officer (CIO). She has also held senior roles at NHS Property Services Ltd, Cushman & Wakefield, Capgemini, and Towry Law.

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