To retain women in STEM, organizations need to improve their culture

Lauren Neal
Founder and CEO
Automatic Summary

An Inclusion Strategy for Retaining Women in STEM


Hello, my name is Lauren Neal, the CEO of Valued at Work, an inclusion consultancy. My mission is to support organizations in nurturing a more inclusive culture that promotes the retention of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. Our consultancy understands the disappointments, frustrations, and limitations that women in STEM often have to face daily and we are excited to share insights on ways organizations can make a positive change.

The Issue

For far too long, there has been a grave misconception that women typically exit the workplace primarily for child or family reasons. However, research is increasingly highlighting that women often leave because of unhealthy and unfair workplace cultures. Toxic workplaces are a universal issue impacting not just women but several other underrepresented groups.

The Solution

At our consultancy, we believe that workplace improvement starts with organizations doing three things:

  1. Acknowledging the true behaviors that are taking place within their teams.
  2. Recognizing and appreciating the right technical skills.
  3. Empowering their future leaders.

Acknowledging Unhealthy Behaviors

Often, unfavorable actions and behaviors are unnoticed or unaddressed. To start the improvement process, organizations need to develop an active listening culture and acknowledge and confront disrespectful behaviors.

Appreciating the Right Skills

Equally crucial is the recognition and appreciation of the technical skills of women in STEM. These professionals should not be relegated to simple office tasks or overlooked because they do not align with traditional stereotypes. Giving due recognition to these technical skills and competencies can do wonders for workplace morale and employee retention.

Empowering Future Leaders

Organizations should also focus on grooming and empowering their future leaders. This involves mapping out clear development plans, promoting a respectful environment, and being proactive in diversity and inclusion activities.


In conclusion, we strongly believe that by acknowledging existing behaviors, recognizing the right technical skills, and empowering future leaders, organizations can drastically improve their culture and retain women in STEM. Define your culture with diversity, inclusive behaviors, and equitable opportunities. Connect with Lauren Neal on LinkedIn to explore more on fostering an inclusive and diverse workplace.

Please Note: Watch out for the upcoming book, "Valued at Work: Addressing Bias to Engage, Enable and Retain Women in STEM," set to be released on the 10th of October.


Q: How essential is it for men to support the Diversity and Inclusion agenda?

A: It's crucial. Diversity and inclusion is a collective endeavor—everyone within the organization should be involved. By engaging actively and empathetically, men can make a considerable impact on improving the workplace climate.

Q: What benchmarks should companies consider for the promotion of women into leadership roles?

A: Companies should consider factors such as the duration women have spent in their current roles, their career aspirations, and then compare this data with the men in similar positions. Understanding these figures can give a clear picture of the current status and the actions required towards promoting more women into leadership roles.

Video Transcription

Hi, everyone. Good morning. Good afternoon and good evening. My name is Lauren Neal and I am the founder and CEO of Valued at work, an inclusion consultancy focused on the retention of women in STEM today.I'm here to talk to you about what organizations need to do to improve their culture. I'm really excited about it. So to, to start with, I'd like to invite you to imagine you are the only person who is different in the room. When you finally get your voice heard, you're met with silence. The discussion then moves on as though you have said nothing at all. You're only called on to share your slides or take the notes even though you have skills and experience that no one else in the room has you feel invisible, undervalued and frustrated and think regularly about resigning today. When organizational leaders speak about diversity, equity and inclusion, they're often talking about recruitment of new employees not retaining or valuing existing ones. Women in STEM experience this every single day. A lot of people assume women leave the workplace due to child or family caring responsibility, but a lot of women are not leaving because of that. They're leaving due to toxic workplace cultures.

How do I know that I've experienced it myself multiple times in the almost two decades that I have worked in the energy sector. I was regularly questioning my skills and abilities and what I needed to do to fit in. This is happening right now. Not 20 years ago, there are many women and other unrecognized groups that have similar experiences. I'm here today to talk about what can organizational leaders do to improve their workplaces? We have 20 minutes in total together where I'll provide a view on what I have seen in the workplace and areas that I know will make a difference. I propose organizations can do three things. One, acknowledge the true behaviors that are taking place in the organization. Two include the right skills and technical, include the right technical skills and three empower your future leaders. We'll have time for Q and A at the end, but please feel free to type in the chat and I'll have a look at the end. So first up, I believe it all starts with listening and acknowledging the disrespectful behaviors that are taking place because we know they're taking place. Speaking 1 to 1 with individuals, leaders will hear some stories but they'll be ad hoc, they'll hear a bit over here and a bit over there.

What I propose is many companies already have employee resource groups or, or termed something similar and these provide a space for community and uncovering these stories, organizations should lead, should use these spaces that already exist. It's one mechanism for leaders to get to know their workforce, personally learn about their experiences as well as their employees aspirations. I built the best relationships in my career with senior management through working with employee resource groups. Ironically, not through my day job, I'm sure we all know a leader in the organization who always says the right thing to management, but you never quite know where you stand with them. My advice to organizations is to acknowledge that these individuals really do exist and to be on the lookout for these inauthentic people in leadership roles by all means, trust what they say, but verify, then when you've got to know your team members at all levels and when you've got to know your team members at all levels, um as well as the leaders identify and showcase role models, this should be based on their performance behaviors as well as any internal or external recognitions.

If they are being recognized externally and not internally, there is a, there is a misbalance that needs to be resolved. Now, recognitions can be a double edged sword for many within the organization. There are women who are brilliant in gaining visibility through initiatives and their performance and then all of a sudden they get blocked or put in their place by a woman. And we all know what that feels like what happens to us, we call them queen bees and queen bees can really hinder inclusion of the next generation of stem women by being gatekeepers. But I propose they are in a really powerful position to make a real positive difference here. They can use their position to lift others and open doors. It doesn't need to be as difficult as it was when they did it. If for example, if any woman has been read has been leading an er G for say more than two years, I would say make room for someone else, give them that opportunity and throw your support behind them. Some of these women have had to have felt they've had to adopt more masculine traits to succeed in the business. They always had to show they had the right answer. But today times are changing organizations need to encourage leaders to show vulnerability and authentic humility.

Leaders need to really connect with their teams and build trust showing that they too are human inclusion. Relies on teams adopting a culture of authentic humility and once organizations understand and acknowledge these real behaviors, they then need to focus on skills. So when we talk about inclusion of the right technical skills, what do I mean? Well, women in stem are too often valued for their office, housework skills and not recognized for their technical skills. It's frustrating. Always being asked to share your screen or take the notes or book the meeting rooms but how can organizations help? Well, we know the office housework activities in most cases need to happen. So let's make them clearly visible and make sure that the division of tasks is fair across every single member of the team. You'll have the office housework divided amongst the team members as well as all the glamour work, all the work where we're all familiar with it, those that get a spotlight on them and very visible recognitions. Let's make sure both are distributed equally. And how do we do that through a teamwork agreement? The team comes together and agree how they are going to work next up.

Ensure all team members are clear on how their work contributes to the overall business and make sure leaders are clearly are able to articulate this to them. So you know how, what you do every day makes a difference. And thirdly verify how women in stem are seen in the team, ask these questions, listen to the answers, ask the women as well as other members in the team. And if necessary, advocate for them to be recognized for their technical abilities and the value that they bring to the team feedback is a gift. We've all heard this. But for me, it is so important for everyone to get good feedback. And the best feedback comes from really knowing each other to mitigate bias feedback needs to be constructive and smart specific measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound organizations need to ensure feedback covers the right areas for the individual's desired career progression.

This should include technical skills, behavioral skills and leadership skills, not just focused in one area. Give your employees examples of career paths of senior leaders and point them to competency requirements for professional registration, for example, so they can track their progress and most importantly, be mindful of bias when potential is assessed. Ensure there is a clear connection to performance to date from the individual bias, hinders recruitment innovation and growth organizations with their employees, that organizations should ensure that their employees are doing work that is meaningful and impactful and how it motivates them.

But they need to watch for egos, these egos come into play when someone in the team feels that someone else is getting more limelight than they do. Now, organizations need to promote an environment where if one team member does well, it reflects well on the whole team and that will help to remove the negative behaviors driven by egos, recognizing others skill sets that complement the team is critical and will encourage the team to always focus on filling any skills gaps regardless of who they come from.

And thirdly, we move on to empowering future leaders. We all want to work for leaders who do the right thing, those who promote a respectful environment and where this isn't the case, it is reported and actioned. It's the most important part that it is actioned without any negative impacts to anyone's career or reputation. It is possible we need senior leaders to walk the talk and consider actively participating in den I activities rather than delegating to others. Quotas can be divisive and negatively impact the perception of women in the organization, especially if they receive a promotion or a new role. She only got the job because she's a woman. Many of us have heard this instead, organizations should be transparent with targets and transparent with the data reasons why improvement in diversity is good for the business should be made clear, communicated regularly and make it clear how every single person can get involved to support my strong uh request to organizations is to avoid bringing in new perspectives only to exclude them.

You're going in a circle that is never going to result in progress. And finally think about the skills expected of future leaders in the organization and encourage everyone to reflect on their own gaps and what they would need to close them to be a leader in the future. Finally, we're back to trust leaders should be encouraged to get to know their employees in order for them to advocate on their behalf for new roles, development opportunities or performance. It's those who's speaking about you. When you're not in the room, leaders need to be available to their employees to build connections, offer advice on training and shadowing opportunities as well as career coaching where you've got women identified as future leaders tell them map out a development plan with them to have them set up for success once they are in a leadership role and check in with them on progress, work with them.

Advocacy of women in stem by senior leaders is critical for their inclusion and success. I have seen it work very well when a leader uses his political and social capital to advocate for me. And unfortunately, I have felt what happens when it is missing and it's not a short term issue. So in conclusion, and to wrap up what we've just been speaking about, I propose organizations can do three things to improve the culture in their organizations to be more inclusive and retain women in stem one, acknowledge the true behaviors that are taking place in their organization to include the right technical skills and three empower and support your future leaders.

Following these three steps can drastically improve business performance that that's driven by inclusive and diverse teams and will ultimately reduce recruitment costs by reducing attrition. Thank you very much. Are there any questions if anybody would like to reach out to me? I am available on linkedin.

You'll be able to find my name there and I am looking to do more of these events. I also have a book that is coming out on the 10th of October called Valued at Work Addressing Bias to engage, enable and retain women in stem and if you connect with me on social media. I would be happy to share more on that at the time as we get closer. Thank you very much. And I'm really glad that you've enjoyed the talk. I haven't seen any questions so far, but if there is anything, please feel free to reach out. Oh, I can see Kimberly. Um, you with your hand up, I'll just ensure you're allowed to talk. Kimberly. Can you hear me? I think you're on mute if you, if you're speaking. Ok, no worries at all. I will stay for another couple of minutes and if there are any questions at all, I'm happy to help. Uh I will just put my linkedin details in the chat. If anybody would like to connect or uh connect and uh discuss offline, I'm more than happy to. Ok. There's a question here from Martin. How important is it for males to support the DN I agenda? Any guidance on how to get males and sponsor support for DN I working groups as an example. So my opinion, very important.

Uh I've seen it firsthand where men are joining any gender focused employee resource groups. It's really important that they are welcomed. Um Men have their own experiences too. They will have, have times in their lives where they have been excluded. And my advice to everybody is to engage with them on that basis. Um Connect hearts and minds uh ensure that they are really listening, but really getting them involved and really showcasing why it's a good thing for men to get involved. Really is the answer because you don't want to alienate a big chunk of the workforce while trying to solve this. Women cannot solve this by themselves. That is absolutely for sure. And that counts for sponsors too. As I said, leaders need to walk the talk. I hope that helps Martine and drew. What sort of benchmarks would be good for companies to consider for promotion of women into leadership roles? For me? I would be talking about um I'd be working with the hr department or people and culture department, whichever the companies call them and understand how long have women been in their current grade or whatever category it is within their organization, find out what are their aspirations, um map it together and then compare it to men in the organization, compare it to the majorities, find out what is it that's happening that is different now, it could be that women are being accelerated.

It could be that women aren't, but let's get the data and really try and understand what does that look like. I hope that helps. No. Thank you very much, everyone.