Move to improve gender balance

Firms offered free legal advice to help hire women

Sarah GilzeanScottish engineering and technology companies wanting to hire or hold on to professional women are being offered free legal advice in a move seen as further step forward in improving gender balance in the workplace.

Law firm HBJ Gateley and gender equality body Equate Scotland have joined forces to provide the service which is aimed at firms in the STEM (science, technology, engineering an mathematics) industries.

It is hoped the partnership will help to address skills shortages, by helping these firms recruit and retain more female staff. More than 70% of women with a STEM qualification no longer work in the sector, and in the engineering sector alone estimates suggest that 10% of the workforce will need to be replaced by 2016.

Sarah Gilzean, an associate in the employment law team at HBJ Gateley (pictured), said employers often wanted to improve gender equality but were anxious about getting it wrong.

She said: “Many STEM industries, like construction and engineering, are male-dominated with established practices that are hard to break. However, we know there are lots of businesses which see the benefits of creating more flexible working environments to attract the best of talent regardless of gender.”

One of the main obstacles for women in STEM industries is the lack of flexible working practices, according to Equate Scotland.

Linda Somerville, project director for Equate Scotland based at Edinburgh Napier University, said being able to attract and retain talented female staff could help to address skills shortages and give companies a competitive edge.

She said: “Employers which can offer flexible working patterns – to all their staff, not just for women – will benefit from lower recruitment costs and better staff retention as well as the associated benefits including improved staff morale and increased productivity.

“There’s definitely a challenge in making sure enough women are studying and qualifying in STEM industries, but employers need to have the knowledge and confidence to successfully develop more inclusive workplaces.

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