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BY Samantha Samel

GE Hopes New Goals Will Narrow STEM Gender Gap

By Samantha Samel

women at GE

Photo credit: Courtesy of GE

GE isn’t afraid to take on a challenge -- especially when it’s one that makes good business sense. That’s why the company has just announced some pretty inspiring goals: by 2020, it hopes to have 20,000 women in STEM roles, as well as 50:50 female/male representation in each of its technical entry-level programs.

“We are setting aggressive goals -- something people can rally around,” Lorraine Bolsinger, VP of GE’s Accelerated Leadership Program, told me on Wednesday when the goals were announced.

Indeed, leaders at GE have been rallying around these objectives. Once the goals were set, Bolsinger and her collaborators -- including Vic Abate, SVP & Chief Technology Officer, and Bill Ruh, Chief Digital Officer -- found it pretty easy to get others on board. “GE has a long-standing commitment to diversity, so it didn’t take a lot of convincing,” Bolsinger said. “Across the corporation, people [both men and women] agreed on the fact that we could do better and that this was an important step towards our digital, industrial future.”

Why 20K by 2020?

“Twenty-thousand by 2020 is a goal that we expect will inspire action within and outside of GE,” said Bolsinger, who added that it’s important to make a compelling business case for more inclusiveness and to hold ourselves accountable for change.

While GE has a long tradition of promoting diversity, the company’s leaders are consistently trying to implement even more effective practices. “We’ve made a lot of effort and now we want to inject some urgency into seeing results,” Bolsinger explained.

 That’s why she and a group of GE’s HR, tech and marketing leaders made it their mission to set and implement goals aimed at increasing more gender balance across the technical functions. As GE is rapidly becoming a digital industrial company, Bolsinger says the company “will need to tap into a bigger talent pool. We need more brilliant minds to stay competitive. To invent the future, the workforce that engineers, designs, codes, builds and services GE’s products across the globe, should reflect that world.”

In a white paper published Wednesday, GE further elaborates on the socio-economic case for these objectives. In addition to focusing on sustainability, the company’s plan was formulated with diversity in mind. “Studies have shown that diverse teams outperform,” Bolsinger said. “Diverse teams always come up with more innovative solutions. And we see it every day in the work that we do at GE.” 

While the company’s new goals are ambitious, GE has a solid foundation to use as a springboard. The company is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its Women’s Network, which Bolsinger said has been wonderfully advocating for similar objectives for the past two decades. “We started from a place of strength. Our commitment to women is broad and deep - from the Women’s Network to our GE Girls programs, as well as the introduction of contemporary benefit programs that are helping foster a fair and inclusive culture at GE where all employees can thrive.”

How Will GE Reach These Goals?

With input from an advisory group, which includes technical leaders from various departments across the company, Bolsinger and her team have been gathering knowledge about what works and what doesn’t. “This group is really helping us inform future strategies focused on career advancement and leadership development opportunities, amongst other things. Their input is invaluable and is helping us to focus on impact,” she said.

One action that GE has already undertaken is adapting its recruiting methods. Recruiters are making an effort to visit universities that have higher ratios of women and are working with some of the schools with which they already have relationships to improve their gender diversity.

Moreover, GE plans to send more women recruiters to do outreach at schools and is organizing informal, friendly events where prospective hires can let their guard down. Bolsinger says GE is also modifying some of its job descriptions. “In the past, our job descriptions were mostly lists of technical capabilities, and of course those are the baseline, but we plan to emphasize the value of softer skills too like communications, team-building and problem-solving.”

“We are not trying to boil the ocean.  We will concentrate on a few things and see if we can move the needle,” Bolsinger added. “If we can do that, we’ll do it again. It’s that goal to 20,000 women by 2020 that puts everything in motion.”

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