Diversity, in terms of gender, nationality, origin, etc., is important. As numerous studies demonstrate, there is a relationship between performance and diversity. According to a Credit Suisse report drafted in 2015, for example, European companies with a woman on the Management Board obtain more benefits from their investments than those where there is none, specifically 14.1% against 11.2% since 2005. “It’s not that one gender has greater abilities than the other, but greater diversity in a group contributes to better decision-taking and higher corporate performance”.
This is why multinational companies have for some time now started to take these recommendations into account when forming diverse teams. For example, L’Oreal has charged 30 executives, throughout its global network of operations, with the task of increasing diversity. Crédit Agricole, meanwhile, has declared that encouraging female leadership is one of its strategic objectives. In the French national railway company, SNCF, secondary school students are invited to meet its employees to contradict the myth that engineering is the work of men.
So where does all this leave Thales, whose current personnel consists of 78% male employees and 54% are of French nationality? If the lack of diversity truly impacts on a company’s growth prospects and on its ability to innovate, what is the company doing to increase diversity?
Promoting diversity is important well beyond final profitability, says Alvin Wilby, vice president for research, technology and innovation (RTI) at Thales United Kingdom. “It’s all very well to talk about growth and innovation, but if we ignore gender diversity, our engineering staff will be existentially threatened”, he explains. “It is an ageing, mostly male group and we know we will have problems finding people with the necessary skills when employees retire and a new generation comes in from universities and company training. If we don’t consequentially try for at least 50% female hirings, we will not obtain the employees we need. This has to change”.
Thales has set itself some ambitious goals to tackle this problem and its intention is for women to account for 40% of new hirings against 29% in 2014. Furthermore, diversity, in terms of gender, nationality and generation, will be considered during the hiring process in the candidature presentation phase. The goal is for women to occupy at least 30% of management positions. To achieve these objectives, Thales is trying to attract students from outside the prototypal nucleus of STEM pupils: white, middle-class males. In the UK, Thales supports Teach First, a program that provides educational training for young professionals who become school leaders in underprivileged areas in order to put a stop to educational inequality, for example.
Justification for a more diverse and inclusive culture goes well beyond final profitability
That’s not all. The coordinator of research, technology and innovation (RTI), Ana Mirsayar, has been working with a group of teachers to increase participation in STEM subjects in schools around England and Wales and to raise Thales’ profile. Their approach has been intelligent, as they attempt to awaken what appears to be a common interest in all teenagers. “We have created a computer game that teaches pupils basic third-grade equations”, explains Mirsayar, and adds that all pupils in the UK have to understand 12 basic equations to pass their GCSEs (general certificate of secondary education) in physics and mathematics; a tough task considering the demands of Pokémon Go and the latest version of Call of Duty.
Thales is trying to attract students from outside the prototypical nucleus of STEM pupils: white middle-class males.
“It is important to state that these equations are something with which pupils have difficulty, so designing a game that inspires and teaches them is crucial. Teach First provides the necessary knowledge for designing learning units and covering pupils’ needs according to the national curriculum. Our Thales graduates have been able to transmit coding knowledge. The group is also developing fourth-grade coding models that can be used in the GCSE computing subjects or in STEM clubs”.
Inclusion through creativity
The fact that computer games, the world’s largest entertainment industry, would not be able to exist without creative experts trained in science and technology may attract young people to STEM subjects. This was certainly a powerful draw for Shae Kirkpatrick, who in the past three years has been working as a software engineer for air traffic control management in Thales’ Australian central office in Melbourne.
“In university I first started to study a humanities degree”, explains Kirkpatrick, who comes from an artistic family and trained as a ballet dancer for 16 years as well as playing the flute and the piano. “But while there I did an animation course with some video game design students and thought it was much more interesting and creative than what I was doing, so I switched to an engineering degree and never looked back”.
Now Shae is trying to share her discovery with primary school pupils, encouraging them to consider science and technology studies. The cause is a worthwhile one. In Australia, the percentage of pupils who manages to successfully complete STEM subjects is falling at an alarming rate, from 22% a decade ago to 16% today. And what’s worse, only 14% of Australian workers with STEM qualifications are women. Kirkpatrick, for example, is the only female technical engineer in a team of 30 people.
Kirkpatrick’s projects consist of short programing tasks that simulate air traffic control management, created with a free internet tool called Scratch which teaches pupils to program in a simple and graphic way. It works by dragging and dropping blocks of instructions on the screen and putting them together like Lego pieces to create a program, game or animation. It does not focus on complex concepts but on problem-solving methods and on the creative aspects of programming.
“Transmitting the creative aspects of STEM is crucial, particularly if we take into account Thales’ background in this male-dominated technical field, says Kirkpatrick. “To say that it’s male-dominated is nothing more than admitting the reality”, she says. “It’s a question of going out there and creating awareness of what we’re actually doing: emphasizing how creative you have to be and how to work as a team and deal with customers. There is a whole creative and innovative side that should be able to awaken the interest of young women students”.
Of course there are incentives that pressure companies such as Thales into diversifying. European Union legislation dictates that by 2020 every EU-registered company has to have applied diversification quotas and at least 40% of its management board members will have to be women.
European legislation dictates that by 2020 every EU-registered company has to have applied diversification quotas and at least 40% of its management board members will have to be women
There is also convincing economic justification for diversifying the staff, argues Astrid Neuland, an Ottawa resident working in the economic development department of Thales Canada Defence and Security. She is acting executive vice president of Women In Defence and Security Canada (WiDS) and responsible for the organization’s affiliations and sponsorships. WiDS promotes the progress of women occupying senior positions in defence- and security-related professions in Canada. Neuland was nominated in Canada’s Esprit de Corps military magazine for the 2017 list of the top 20 women in defence-related senior positions.
“Given that our customers are increasingly diverse, we also have to be diverse”, says Neuland. “The female General with the highest ranking in the Commonwealth is Canadian: Lieutenant-General Christine Whitecross. “If there is more diversity present in terms of gender, culture, origin, education and rank, it makes sense for us to be more diverse also. We have to mirror our customers”.