Amazon unveils strategy to increase women in STEM roles

Young women students in robotics
Students working in a robotics lab.
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Amazon has launched a series of initiatives to boost the number of women in technology roles across its UK business, after research found two-thirds of women working in the UK’s “innovation economy” have had to overcome barriers on their own to succeed in their careers.

The programme, Amazon Amplify, aims to improve the recruitment and retention of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) roles and help remove some of the most frequent barriers to progression they encounter.

Its objective is to recruit more women through its Amazon Web Services Return to Work programme, which will provide career-leavers with an opportunity to return to flexible full-time work.

“Inclusive” interview questions will be adopted throughout its recruitment process, which Amazon said would help find staff who share its commitment to improving diversity.

It expects to improve the pipeline of female STEM students by offering a degree apprenticeship programme and an Amazon Women in Innovation Bursary that will give up to 24 female students who hope to go into a tech career more than £130,000 a year between them to support them through their studies.

To help female career progression, Amazon will also offer a UK-wide interactive training programme covering confidence and self-awareness, adapting to different environments, managing external and internal stakeholders and becoming an “effective contributor” to the business.

“Diversity fosters greater innovation and helps raise the bar for customers, and having a diverse workforce is also just the right thing to do,” said Fiona McDonnell, Amazon’s director, consumer retail. “Our new Amazon Amplify plan aims to attract and retain the best and brightest talent in Britain, ensuring a positive environment in which they can thrive.”

Recruitment is just the first step

However, Alexandra Anders, EMEA talent director at Cornerstone OnDemand, said that hiring more women was just the first step; training managers who had worked in a male-dominated team was vital to improve female STEM representation.

“There are also employees who don’t want and don’t like change, and the best way to get them on board is to encourage an honest exchange to find out why – it may take some teasing out,” she said.

“From a leader’s perspective, when you bring a diverse set of people together you must be clear how you want to be as a company. Yes, there will be local laws and cultural aspects that individuals in your organisation hold dear, but you must set the ‘laws’ as a company and what it means to be at your organisation. And for many organisations, this means moving away behaviours that stifle diversity.”

Nine in 10 women experience barriers to their technology careers, while 26% say they encounter more barriers than “enablers”, according to Amazon-commissioned research involving more than 1,250 women in “innovation” careers.

Sixty-six per cent claim they have had to overcome barriers on their own to succeed in their careers, with just 22% receiving support from their employers.

Lack of confidence the biggest barrier

The top three barriers to women working in STEM are a lack of confidence (84%), adapting to a male-dominated environment (75%) and a lack of recognition from senior managers (72%). Enablers were identified as personal determination and resilience (59%), self-efficacy (44%) and a greater work-life balance than other careers (44%).

The research was commissioned by Amazon, women in STEM charity WISE and the Lord Ashcroft International Business School at Anglia Ruskin University.

“It’s concerning that lack of confidence came out as the biggest barrier faced by women working in innovation, but of course confidence develops as a result of support and encouragement,” said Helen Wollaston, WISE chief executive.

The report recommends specific actions for employers and universities to boost the contribution of women to innovation. If they follow Amazon’s lead by taking a proactive approach to build an inclusive culture where women and men from all backgrounds are confident being themselves, it will pay dividends.”

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