Metrics for STEM Women – a Critical Examination of the High-tech Approach

by Trena Luong and Dr John Sullivan

There has been a great deal of publicity lately surrounding the lack of STEM women at high-tech firms. Unfortunately, we have to give two thumbs down to the diversity data from each of the top high-tech firms that have publicly released their numbers. Although the firms’ intentions were good, the limited scope of the metrics that they revealed do not provide the necessary information that STEM women need in order select which firm to join or the right information needed in order to encourage them to actually apply for a different tech job.

High-tech firms have two basic reasons for attempting to hire and retain more STEM women into key roles.

The first and most obvious is to meet EEOC legal requirements, but the second is related to improving business results. This business reason is critical because if you don’t have a sufficient number of women designing a product and providing customer service, it’s unlikely that the products and services that the firm offers will fit the needs of current and potential women users. This business reason means that simply hiring women is not enough, because it is also equally important to make sure that STEM women are placed in influential positions that directly impact a firm’s products, services, and the way that it does business. The current metrics that firms use are not clearly aligned with their business goals, and because they are only “quota metrics,” we find that they do not provide the in-depth information that is needed in order to identify the barriers that prevent STEM women from applying, accepting an offer, and succeeding in a new job.

It’s time for firms to move away from metrics that cover only standard quotas (where you only measure the percentage of women). Now is the time to introduce metrics that go further and measure STEM-womens’ influence at the firm and whether they are treated well enough that they stay at the firm for long enough to have a business impact. These broader goals of influence, inclusion, and retention goals obviously require not just metrics covering the percentage of women at the firm but also a complete STEM women scorecard, which helps to reveal the depth, impact, and movement of STEM women in a company. Our recommended STEM women metrics are broken up into three parts: metrics for current employees, metrics for recruiting, and metrics for a business case.


Part I — STEM Women Metrics Covering the Current Employee Population

Before you can increase the representation of women at a firm, you must improve the recruiting and retention processes. Metrics can only help you improve your recruiting and retention if the firm tracks and reports on the key issues that STEM women worry about before they consider applying for a new job or when they decide to quit a job at your firm. As a result, the metrics that we recommend focus on key job issues that STEM women often have, including: whether women frequently become managers and if they are represented in key jobs, get promoted rapidly, get paid fairly, and if they are represented in executive positions. We recommend corporations select from among the eight STEM women metrics listed here.

  1. The number and percentage of STEM women employees — this metric provides only a limited value because it does not cover important impact factors like the level of the positions that women fill, their pay, their promotion rates etc.
  2. The percentage of women among C- level executives and on the firm’s board of directors – one way to ensure that women have a high strategic business impact and visibility to STEM women on the outside is to have STEM women adequately represented on the board and among “C-level” executives.
  3. The average percentage of STEM women employees in managementand leadership positions – having STEM women in management and non-executive leadership jobs will increase their business and product impacts, but it will also serve as a signal to other women that they can be hired into and promoted into management. As a result, firms should track and report the percentage of women and men who hold management and team leadership roles, particularly in technical business functions.
  4. The average percentage of STEM women employees in each key job family, including product design, sales, and customer service  if one of the goals of your firm is to have women employees in roles where they can influence the products and services of your firm, you must measure their percentage in key design and product development jobs. If another goal is to have women interacting with current or potential customers that include a high percentage of women, then you must also measure their percentage of representation in customer contact jobs including customer service and sales job families.
  5. The average promotion rate of STEM women employees compared to men – women have traditionally been promoted at a lower rate than men, so measure their promotion rate compared to men in key job families and career paths.
  6. The average retention rate of STEM women employees compared to men — spending large amounts in order to recruit STEM women only has a high return if they stay on the job long enough to have an impact. Measure the voluntary turnover rate of STEM women in key jobs and compare it to the rate for men.
  7. The average compensation of STEM women employees compared to men in the same job – women have frequently been underpaid compared to men; measure the average difference in pay between men and women in the same job. This compensation metric can be “leveled” based on experience, tenure, and education level.
  8. The number and percentage of STEM women employees over the age of 40 – because women frequently are concerned about discrimination as they age, measure the percentage of women in key jobs who are over 40.


Part II — A Recruiting Metric Scorecard for STEM Women

The recommended metrics above cover current employees, but firms should have a separate scorecard which covers the recruiting of STEM women each year. This separate scorecard focusing on recruiting is important because other than through mergers and purchasing firms with a high percentage of women employees, the only way to increase the percentage of women at a firm is to recruit them. Four powerful and revealing recruiting metrics that we recommend that firms consider include:

  1. The total number and percentage of STEM women new hires during the last year — although it’s a broad indicator, each year a firm should measure the number of women hired and their percentage among all new hires (excluding interns).
  2. The number and the percentage of STEM women new hires in management and team leadership positions — women considering a new job expect women to hold a representative number of management jobs. Firms should measure the number and percentage of STEM women who are externally hired each year into management and team leader positions.
  3. The number and the percentage of STEM women new hires in design, sales, and customer service jobs — if you expect STEM women to impact your product and customer service, you must measure the number and the percentage of STEM women who are hired each year into product and customer impact jobs (i.e. design, sales, and customer service).
  4. A metric to assess “where” in the recruiting process a firm is losing STEM women applicants – even if the firm succeeds in getting enough qualified STEM women to apply for its jobs, our research indicates that a significant percentage will drop out or be rejected long before a final hiring decision is made. If a firm expects to successfully hire more STEM women applicants, it must develop a system to identify precisely at what stage or stages of the recruiting process (i.e. resume screening, phone screening, interviews, or the offer process) a high percentage of STEM women are prematurely rejected or lost. The firm should also survey STEM women applicants and new hires to determine what worked and what didn’t work for them during the recruiting and hiring process. Obviously, this data would be used for continuous process improvement and it would not be revealed to the public. 


Part III — Business-case-related Metrics for STEM Women

Our research indicates that the best way to convince hiring managers and coworkers to identify and select more women is to demonstrate the business impact of hiring and retaining more STEM women. When both hiring managers and team members realize the size of STEM womens’ economic contribution, they are more likely to eliminate barriers that restrict their hiring. And finally the CFO’s office should work with HR in order to quantify the total revenue impact in dollars of hiring and retaining more STEM women. Obviously we don’t recommend that you externally report these metrics. Two business case metrics that we recommend are:

  1. The average on-the-job performance of STEM women new hires compared to men (i.e. quality of hire) — simply counting the number of women hired does not reveal the increased performance that newly hired STEM women can provide. Measure the on-the-job performance of newly hired STEM women (i.e. quality of hire) and then compare it to the average on-the-job performance rating (i.e. performance appraisal rating or forced ranking score) of newly hired men in the same job family. Firms should also strive to show whether STEM women produce innovations and innovative ideas at a rate higher than that of men.
  2. The correlation between STEM women and business results – demonstrate the economic value of having a representative workforce. One of the ways to do this is to show a direct connection or correlation between increasing the percentage of STEM women in a team and a direct improvement in business results for that team. By showing a high correlation, you can increase everyone’s support for hiring more STEM women.


Final Thoughts

Although many have applauded the recent release of diversity metrics by several high-tech firms, we find that the metrics that they have released can only be classified as shallow. They are shallow because they don’t cover important areas like inclusion, promotion rates, and the level of the positions held by STEM women. In most cases, the released metrics are merely statistics that are designed to meet the limited EEOC reporting requirements.

If firms want to be transparent and reveal where specifically in their organization that they have succeeded in making sure that STEM women are fairly represented, it’s time for them to develop a more comprehensive metric scorecard. In this article we have provided a variety of metric options that more effectively reveal to potential candidates and the current women employees whether a firm has succeeded in each of the areas that reveal a comprehensive inclusion of STEM women. Finally, we find that the time to move beyond simple quotas for STEM women and other diverse groups has long ago passed. The time to act is now.

Research Assistant: Trena Luong

TrenaI am a recruiter currently partnering with Dr. John Sullivan on several projects including how to recruit STEM Women, Recruiting Best Practices, and Metrics. Within my 2+ years experience in human resources, I have completed Full cycle recruiting, sourcing, screening, interviewing, presenting, and placing direct hires and temporary candidates in various positions. I also have worked in (organization) management, and HR consulting.

With a tremendous lack of Diversity in tech in the Silicon Valley, I decided to put my focus towards recruiting STEM women into key impacting jobs (sales, customer service, design, and C level), identifying the barriers that STEM women have in each phase of a recruiting process.

Certified Diversity Recruiter 9.0

You can contact me via
Email- [email protected]
Twitter- @trenaluong

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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