Everyone does their best work in an inclusive, welcoming and supportive environment. After the recruitment, continue to support women and girls on apprenticeships to bring out their best and make sure they have a positive learning experience. This will ensure the apprenticeship is a starting point to a long and happy career in STEM. Identify and address the culture of your organisation and in particular, issues that may prevent girls and women staying on, achieving and progressing. If training and the working environment are not right for women, there is a risk they will not complete the course.
There are two important stages in building a strong and supportive environment for apprentices.
Setting the right policies and practices in the workplace
Leaving school for the world of work can be very daunting, especially for young women going into male dominated STEM environments. Simple steps can really help to ensure that apprentices turn up on their first day and stay the course.
- Give apprentices advance information and a personal contact they can speak to about any issues. Invite them to meet colleagues and trainers informally. Make sure your induction process is comprehensive and covers any concerns about confidence or isolation as well as the practical and safety aspects of the role – or consider the approach taken by InCommunities, who have a dedicated Training Manager who supports apprentices through their course and nurtures talent.
- Provide one-to-ones with apprentices on a regular basis to discuss how they are getting on and any concerns they may have. Deal promptly with any issues.
- Make sure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is available in women’s sizes, if required. This is not just for safety but how you look affects how you feel and young women need to have clothes that fit them properly.
- Make sure there are posters and promotional materials in training areas and around the organisation showing positive role models of women in STEM.
- Check your organisation for practical issues – are there suitable changing facilities, are there enough female toilets and are they accessible? Are they further away than the men’s toilets – will these issues cause problems with timekeeping?
Training staff to understand new practices and put them into action
- Make sure all staff are aware of what is acceptable language and behaviour – not just because there are women present, but for all employees as part of a professional, friendly work environment.
- Consider the training needs of your existing workforce as well as apprentices, both male and female – you need them to work effectively with colleagues from all different backgrounds and feel confident in tackling inappropriate language or behaviour. You may consider specific training on this area – WISE offers workshops with an introduction to unconscious bias in the workplace plus practical strategies to implement in your organisation or with your training provider.
Babcock delivers diversity training to all employees, involving a three-day workshop and e-learning module to make sure all staff understand and follow the companies’ values around diversity.
- Ensure women have access to peer support – either internally or externally, such as with WISE, their professional body or other networks. Consider offering them a mentor.
- Make a point of getting all apprentices involved in informal company social activities and sporting events – are they welcoming to women? And make sure there are opportunities for different people in the business to get to know each other and mix in a friendly setting – reach out if you see anyone being excluded for whatever reason.
- Are your values and behaviours clearly defined with clear and visible messages about what is and is not acceptable? Consider signing up to the WISE Ten Steps to help review your company culture.
- Speak to women in your organisation about being role models for other women and girls coming into the business – but understand that singling out women and girls for “special treatment” can be unwelcome as well. Women and girls sometimes don’t want to be treated as special. It can cause resentment amongst male colleagues if women are getting all the “interesting” roles. Tread carefully and make sure everyone understands that bringing more women and girls into the organisation isn’t about pushing anybody out – it’s about building a stronger business and making sure women and girls get the same access to opportunities as men.
- Women and girls from different racial or religious backgrounds, lesbian, bisexual or transwomen, older women, or those who are different from the majority group can often face additional pressures. Ensuring team leaders, tutors and apprenticeship managers are sensitive to these differences can help build a truly supportive environment.