How to attract and retain female talent in business

Written by
Suzy Style

18 Jun 2018

18 Jun 2018 • by Suzy Style

BP’s head of graduate resourcing, Suzy Style, highlights three elements crucial to enhancing gender diversity.

“What gets you out of bed in the morning?” is a question graduates are often asked in job interviews. It gives the interviewer an insight into what candidates are passionate about. Recently, I’ve been wondering how I might answer this question myself. And actually, the answer is quite simple: I love inspiring students about the array of amazing career opportunities they can have within the energy industry.

As BP’s head of UK graduate resourcing, I want to make sure we have a great pipeline of talented young people joining the company. Attracting a balance of male and female graduates is an important part of this. It’s a competitive landscape, though, especially in areas such as STEM, where the percentage of female graduates is far lower than male.

Historically, the energy industry has attracted more men than women – particularly in STEM roles. So, it is critical that we dispel the misconceptions, informing female graduates about the wonderful career opportunities they can secure at a company such as BP. We need to recruit a diverse group of graduates with STEM and digital skills, in order to achieve our goal of transitioning to a low-carbon future. I am delighted to say that, since 2010, we have doubled our recruitment of female graduates around the world which means that almost half of the graduates joining us now are female.

This should provide a great number of talented women who will work their way through the organisation, having fun and making key contributions to BP while developing into the leaders of tomorrow.

As a business, we have taken certain measures to ensure we attract great women to and retain them within the organisation, and in my opinion, there are three crucial elements to this:

Maintaining a human element in the recruitment process

In today’s digital age, personal interaction in the recruitment process is key. Large companies can appear opaque and unapproachable from the outside, and there may be misconceptions about what actual job roles entail. For example, many students and graduates I meet at career events and open days don’t really know the true extent of what BP does and the diversity of job roles we offer. By talking to students, companies can establish a personal link with prospective employees and give them the opportunity to ask questions and get under the skin of the organisation.

As part of this, we frequently run female-specific events. I really enjoy meeting and engaging with young female students. It allows me to understand their interests and passions as well as dismantle preconceptions about the industry.

The importance of human contact and personalisation continues throughout the recruitment process. So the question HR and talent teams need to ask themselves is: “How do we ensure personal touch points within standardised recruiting processes?”

This starts with a user-friendly website and a real, live person to contact if there are any questions regarding the application process as candidates progress. It also includes face-to-face interaction at interview and assessment stages.

Establishing a values-based, diverse and inclusive business culture

Using our organisational values as a touchstone, actively questioning the status quo and honestly evaluating the workplace from a female perspective will help senior management to make the right choices.

This includes assessing job offers from a female point of view, the mentoring and training opportunities provided, opportunities for flexible and project working, childcare support arrangements, maternity and paternity policies, to name but a few. Promoting an open and inclusive work environment, in which both women and men can thrive and support each other, will ultimately attract great male and female talent in the longer term.

Acknowledging and celebrating personal differences

Finally, how do we encourage women to stay and grow within a company and feel confident about achieving their career ambitions there? Acknowledging and celebrating everyone’s individual differences is absolutely key. We are equal, but we are not identical. People from different genders, ages and backgrounds may approach things differently, and we need to be mindful of this. It’s about knowing how to foster and embrace those differences, for the benefit of employees and the business. This is especially relevant when considering performance reviews, and the design of training or career development initiatives. They must take into account the needs of all participants.

A workforce made up of diverse people, in both gender and background, is essential. It makes good business sense. It brings benefit by ensuring balance of thought, innovation and approach to business decisions and operations. But also, it is the right thing to do for the society and the communities in which our companies operate.