“As a woman in science, I sincerely hope that my receiving a Nobel Prize will send a message to young women everywhere that the doors are open to them and that they should follow their dreams.”

-- Linda B. Buck: Nobel Prize Winning Biologist  

Over the past two years, the strengthening U.S. economy has pushed unemployment below 5%, further fueling the war for talent. In manufacturing, a growing skills gap means that finding the right people for the job is especially difficult.

You’ve probably read or heard about Deloitte/Manufacturing Institute study that estimates that 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will open up over the next 10 years. Analysts anticipate that 2 million of those jobs may go unfilled due to lack of skilled workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. This not only limits business growth within the industry but also has far-reaching negative consequences on the overall economy, and threatens America’s ability to remain a global industry leader.  

Closing the skills gap in manufacturing requires that companies attract and select the best talent from the full spectrum of the North American talent pool. That involves reaching out more to women (and to girls as they choose their careers), since women are underrepresented in STEM positions.

Even though almost 50% of the U.S. workforce is female, only 25% of women hold STEM positions. Yet they and their families stand to benefit from this career choice: women in STEM can earn 33% more than their counterparts in non-STEM occupations.

With that in mind, BASF is making a concerted effort to broaden our talent pool to include more women, Part of that involves reaching girls early. Until sixth grade, girls are equally as interested in science and math as boys, but in the middle school years, their interest and scores wane.

Taking Action to Attract and Retain

In order to recruit more women, we are doing some things differently when it comes to recruiting and developing talent. Part of this involves refining our job requirements in order to ensure we are creating an internal talent mix that reflects the full diversity of the external talent market. By broadening our job descriptions and using more inclusive language, we attract a wider talent pool.

For instance, highlighting the collaborative and problem-solving aspects of STEM roles in our job descriptions increases the number of women and Millennials attracted to these roles, without having any negative effect on the pool of applicants we receive from more traditional talent sources.

In addition, we have introduced hiring manager education on the power of inclusive hiring and embracing diversity. The curriculum addresses how to recognize and hire for potential and the value of different perspectives to project teams to deliver heightened innovation and customer satisfaction. We also work to ensure that our interviewing panels include diverse groups of people, and we create networking and provide mentoring and career development opportunities.

We also make an effort to reach out across the industry to help close the skills gap. One of BASF’s senior vice presidents chairs the National Association of Manufacturing/ Manufacturing Institute’s STEP Ahead initiative to attract, develop and retain more women in manufacturing careers. Those efforts are the focus of a series of National Manufacturing Day activities in October—including programs for educators on the value of manufacturing careers and an industry panel of female STEM professionals sharing their career wisdom.

Laying Groundwork in the Early Years

We also engage in a variety of efforts to attract young girls to the STEM disciplines.

The BASF Kids’ Lab, hosted by various schools and science museums, is focused on making the discipline fun and fascinating. In this interactive chemistry education program, kids become scientists for one day, and have the opportunity to experiment in a playful manner and learn why and how the world’s marvels work.

We’ve reached over 90,000 students through this program, helping them understand the role that chemistry plays in enriching our daily lives, in the hope that they will be more inspired to pursue an interest in science as they grow older.

In addition, BASF has implemented a Science Academy program that attracts the best and brightest high school students from schools near major BASF locations, introducing these students to college-level STEM education in the pivotal summer between their junior and senior years of high school.

We see consistently strong female participation in this program, with girls making up 55% of the Class of 2016. Historically, 15% have even gone on to hold BASF internships or full-time placements.

For two weeks, students work in teams to use BASF chemistry to formulate their own personal care products and develop a go-to-market plan and strategy that is then presented to a panel of BASF executives and Fairleigh Dickinson University academic leaders.

Through exposure to real-world chemistry, students in the Science Academy observe how the fundamental building blocks of many every day products are comprised of chemistry, and they graduate from the program with two transferable college credits to encourage their pursuit of a STEM degree.

Establishing career-long interest

At the college level and beyond, BASF engages in a number of efforts to recruit and retain women in STEM careers. We partner with the Society of Women Engineers to sponsor programs in their annual national meetings, and we provide career role models to offer mentorship and advice about early career development and work-life balance.

BASF also offers internships and a Professional Development Program with a special focus on attracting women who have a high degree of participation in the chemical and engineering disciplines. The Professional Development Program places up-and-coming leaders in highly selective placements on a rotational basis, offering great exposure to major BASF businesses and sites. Female participation in these programs approaches 50% and retention rates at five years exceed 90%.

Finally, we engage in workforce development efforts to bring more women into technical disciplines. We are partnering with community colleges and universities to influence curriculum, serve on advisory boards and provide internships, faculty externships and other key programs.

STEM jobs present a world of opportunity for us all: even more than women benefit from STEM careers, BASF benefits from the women it mentors, recruits and hires.