Talat Yaqoob, Director of Equate Scotland, opened the conference and outlined the reasons driving the project: ‘Gender equality is very important, not only for large companies but also for small and medium businesses (SMEs). In Scotland, Spain and the Netherlands, SMEs make up a large part of the economy. What we noticed is that it is harder for SMEs to work towards gender equality, for example because they have fewer resources. With this project we created very accessible tools for SMEs to implement changes in their business and work towards gender equality. If we want to create the tipping point where we achieve gender equality, we need to engage SMEs as well.’
'With this project we created very accessible tools for SMEs to implement changes in their business and work towards gender equality.'
Keynote speaker, Sara Thiam, CEO of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, highlighted the importance of change to achieve gender equality in SMEs. ‘The numbers speak for them self: Gender inequality is still a fact in SMEs operating in STEM. In order to attract more women to SMEs we need to change the work conditions. Looking into work hours, normalising part-time work and making sure women feel welcome. Also, educating the younger generation is very important. Role models play a very important part when it comes to engaging the younger female generation. Young girls need to see someone who they can identify with.’
Three SMEs from Spain, the Netherlands and Scotland were presented to show examples of best practices. These three companies have been working towards gender equality by engaging the younger generation, employing more women and changing their business image showing that they are open to diversity and welcoming towards women. During the panel session after, the audience actively participated in the discussion, asking a lot of questions but also sharing ideas to encourage gender equality. One point which was being raised was that paternity and maternity leave should be equal. Men should be equally encouraged to take paternity leave. Furthermore, the images companies use to promote their products and company should be more diverse and include more images of women in STEM. Another audience member pointed out that gender awareness training is an effective tool to work towards gender equality. Within businesses men and women should both be aware of the issues and work together to create change. In conclusion, the most important thing is that gender inequality is a problem that men and women should solve together.
'Gender inequality is a problem that men and women should solve together.'
In the next session experts discussed how SMEs can engage and retain women. They shared their views and thoughts on questions such as: ‘Why is workplace inclusivity important? Do we need bold measures to ignite change? And what are the best ways to engage SMEs and stimulate gender equality?’ Shukriya Addow, Skills Development Scotland, started off by emphasizing that in order to break the cycle of inequality we need to start engaging young girls and encourage them to go into STEM. The discussion continued and moved towards the need of a women’s quota. The opinions were divided when it came to the quota. Some felt we need to make changes to the work culture first and they thought that a quota was to drastic. Others believed that with the implementation of a quota the change we want can be achieved. However, most experts felt that bold measures wouldn’t be effective for SMEs. They emphasized that more subtle measures, supported by both employers and employees, are far more effective.
'Creating gender equality is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do.’
In conclusion, for SMEs operating in STEM it is just as important as for bigger companies, to engage women and strive for gender equality. Using the words of Anne Glover, president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh: ‘Creating gender equality is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do.’ The ENGENDERING STEM project team has created tools and collected examples to make change for SMEs as easy as possible. By giving practical tips about topics such as flexible working arrangements, coaching and mentoring, women's networks and unconscious bias training. Tsalat Yaqoob closed the conference by saying: ‘The event has finished but the cause hasn’t finished. As said before, even though the project has come to an end, the legacy of the project is still available. The self-assessment tool, best practices guide, and online-training can still be used by SMEs. Let’s work on change together.’