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Empowering Parents in STEM

​The future is STEM, but whose future is it? Parents tend to have a tough time in the STEM space – the stats are hard to ignore, particularly as a push for more inclusive workplaces drags their experience into the limelight.

A recent study found that nearly half of all new mothers and a quarter of new fathers leave their full-time STEM employment after having children, a symptom of the many imbalances that prevent a move to a more equitable future.

Where do these barriers to progress lie? And what can we do to start making STEM work more viable for the world’s parents?

The Cost of Childcare

The UK has among the highest childcare costs on the planet, which exacerbated by the cost of living crisis, leaves some parents with a bleak ultimatum: to give up the unsupportive STEM career that doesn’t cover the bills. For those who require the use of a part-time nursery service, these bills now average out at over £7000 per year.

STEM companies have a large part to play in making drastic improvements, provided they can adopt policies that provide tangible benefits for those who need to look after young children. It’s not a cost-sink either, but rather, an investment. STEM workers tend to be highly specialised, and in a talent-short market, struggling to retain those highly specialised employees spells disaster.

As recession preparation sets in, mass layoffs populate the headlines and inflated wages start dropping, people are rethinking their working life, turning their attention towards better benefits packages that don’t necessarily mean higher base salaries.

Providing parents with policies that actively support their situation, be it flexible working, paid parental leave, childcare vouchers, or in some cases, on-campus childcare.

Top Tip: There’s a strong business case for supporting new parents, and it’s not just that highly skilled STEM workers are hard to replace. There are ways to implement new services without sacrificing too much budget either; companies like Cisco and Next have a salary sacrifice scheme in place for example.

The STEM Rationale

As with the majority of the world’s sectors, STEM has its very own working culture, and unfortunately, it’s a culture that many associate with burnout-inducing hours. It’s rooted in truth too – an article in USA Today claimed that 40% of students are leaving STEM majors within four or five years, citing the ‘sink or swim’ nature of the ultra-competitive industry as a major driver behind the high turnover rate.

For parents, who (generally speaking) already face an additional layer of stress in their home life, don’t need the added pressure of poor working culture. How do we overcome it on the path to meaningful change?

The example must be set by the decision-makers at the leadership level. Be it through the introduction of a new policy, offering mentorship opportunities, or simply listening to the needs of their people (perhaps not as simple as it sounds for 3 in 4 managers).

Top Tip: Celebrate excellence and platform parents in the STEM world. If you can see it, you can be it, a key remedy in the battle against underrepresentation.

Structural Change

An environment that requires its people to prioritise work above all else is a detriment not only to parents but the entire workforce.

Structural change is both necessary and inevitable as today’s employees represent a great deal of sway in the current landscape. Talent shortage or not, businesses will need to place a greater emphasis on developing an equitable, inclusive workplace if they want to attract anyone, parents or otherwise.

Reforming and revitalising workplace culture starts with education. From bias training to mentoring to greater representation at the leadership level, even the smallest changes can alter the wider picture for the better.

STEM stands on the leading edge of progression. Technological innovation and scientific discovery are defining features of an industry that’s constantly looking towards the future, so why should its culture get left behind?

Top Tip: Cultural change and structural change go hand-in-hand. The way we look at parents in STEM careers needs to improve – all the policies in the world won’t make up for the cultural barriers, namely (and somewhat ironically) being seen as less committed.

Here at BioTalent, we make it our mission to build more inclusive working environments for everyone, and that includes parents. By underpinning our staffing methodology with a diversity-led approach to life, we can place people in working environments that truly suit their unique needs.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to thrive, reach out to the team at BioTalent today, we’re here to help.