Almost a decade ago, Melissa Rancourt’s frustration boiled over. As head of her own engineering company, she had heard people in the industry talk for years about getting more girls into the sciences. But the statistics didn’t show much improvement—in many cases, the number of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) seemed to be stagnating.
Rancourt sent an email to a circle of friends and colleagues: “Was there a need to encourage girls to pursue science?” she asked. The answer was a resounding yes. That’s why Rancourt organized an event to bring scientists and young girls together for hands-on workshops devoted to exploring specific STEM topics.
Rancourt will discuss what she learned from the program at the Women in Leadership Forum at CPhI Worldwide. The forum is open to people of all genders and will be followed by a cocktail reception. The event explores how to build a future-fit workplace, and speakers—including Rancourt, Antonio Bebba and Ulrike Grossheim from Pfizer, and consultant Kathy Teoh—will talk about how building an inclusive workplace is key to building a competitive edge for the future.
"It’s about moving past getting diverse groups represented within the company to create a culture where everyone is comfortable being themselves"
“We want to look at the diversity of gender, but also at diversity in all aspects. Questioning how can we create jobs that are so engaging that anyone wants to do it,” says Rancourt, the founder and board president of greenlight for girls, which organizes the STEM events. “It’s about taking at a look at what people need and what they are looking for.”
When she started in engineering, Rancourt says, she often realized that she was one of the only women on the team. She wondered whether she had been brought to fulfil a quota to meet company goals. That kind of thinking is what she wants to move away from. Instead, she wants to encourage companies to consider developing diversity to build a forward-looking workforce.
The approach has been adopted by companies like Pfizer. Bebba, a member of the Pfizer Diversity and Inclusion Council Europe (DICE), is helping pioneer a workplace culture devoted to inclusion as a means of encouraging diversity.
“When you make it possible for each person, for each colleague to feel welcome in an environment, then people are willing and able to unleash their full power,” Bebba says. It’s about moving past getting diverse groups represented within the company to create a culture where everyone is comfortable being themselves.
“People who can work cooperatively and workforces that have an ingrained ability to adapt to different social circumstances will be more competitive,” says Grossheim, a member of Pfizer’s German diversity and inclusion group. Grossheim will speak with Bebba at the Women in Leadership Forum about how to make diversity and inclusion a reality in the workplace.
As the pace of technological advances requires constant change and adaptation, Teoh sees in addition to the growing importance of communication skills—a shift away from the dominant prescriptive mode of work. Whereas roles and duties were once clearly delineated, she says, future-fit workplaces increasingly take a collaborative approach to leadership and are moving away from what she calls the “command and control” management model.
Efforts to enhance diversity will create more resilient workforces that can respond easily to new technologies and innovation. Without an accompanying culture shift, though, diversity efforts could remain superficial, and the stagnation that frustrated Rancourt could continue to hold back progress toward building the business model of the future.