GE is unleashing a business plan that focuses on numbers of a different sort: women employees. The company is launching a strategy called Balance the Equation, which aims to have a 50:50 representation of men and women in technical entry-level programs. The goal is to grow the number of women in STEM roles to 20,000 by 2020. Company leaders say it’s more than just demographics; increasing the number of women will lead to productivity and performance gains.
GE has three manufacturing facilities in Indiana; the most prominent location is GE Aviation in Lafayette, where the company builds LEAP engines to power aircraft worldwide, including the Boeing 737. The $100 million facility opened in 2016 and is expected to employ 230 by 2020. According to GE’s new mission to Balance the Equation, half of the entry-level hires for technical positions will be women.
“We decided let’s put a stake in the ground and show our commitment to moving the needle,” says GE Global Brand Experience Marketing Lead Jamie Braaten. “Gender-balanced teams are a must; diverse thought equals innovation. We’re seeing other organizations—companies and those on the academic side—setting similar goals. If we’re doing it, our customers and partners should be thinking about this, universities and academics should be thinking about this; all the pieces need to fit together for this to happen.”
In a whitepaper the company authored, GE cited a study that shows more gender-diverse companies perform 53 percent better than lesser ones, including a 34 percent increase in total returns. GE Chief Economist Marco Annunziata notes, “Unless we bring more women into technology and manufacturing, there will be a significant negative economic impact on the sector.”
The campaign could have an even greater impact on women in Indiana; GE says, historically, it has recruited more students from Indiana colleges than any other state and hired more students from Purdue University than any other school in the U.S.
Currently, women hold 18 percent of the technical positions at GE, which Braaten says reflects the industry average. With just under 15,000 women currently in STEM roles at GE, Braaten notes growing that number to 20,000 “is a very significant shift for us in the next three years.” The effort will increase the number of women in engineering, manufacturing, IT and product management roles.
“When we recruit for entry-level programs, we are striving toward a 50:50 balance for those programs,” says Braaten. “The other really important piece of the puzzle is retention; while recruiting and cultivating the talent pipeline, we’re also focusing on how we retain women who are already in the company and bring them into positions of leadership.”
To highlight its new effort, a Balance the Equation RV is visiting college campuses throughout the country to promote the campaign and help recruit women. Purdue was its first stop, where Emily Canepa, a LEAP-1A materials leader at GE Aviation in Lafayette and Trine University graduate, helped connect with students.
“I’m really passionate about what I do at GE, and in general, about mechanical engineering. I think a lot of women don’t go into STEM because they don’t have a role model who pushes them. My dad was a chemical engineer, and when I was eight years old and showed an interest in math said, ‘Oh, you like math; you will be an engineer,’” says Canepa. “I wanted to be [at the mobile tour] encouraging women to go into the field—and not just women, but people in general.”
The campaign also includes a TV commercial that asks the question, “What if we treated great female scientists like they were stars?”
The company has a list of actions to help close its gender gap, which includes increasing recruitment from universities with “a contemporary gender mix,” forming a council to address future retention strategies and expanding family-friendly benefits such as parental leave and affordable childcare.
“We’re spotlighting the importance of STEM and showing how exciting the career opportunities can be,” says Braaten. “It’s opening another door for women that maybe they haven’t even considered yet.”
Canepa says she’s hopeful GE is helping create “a snowball effect” for women in STEM.
Braaten says the RV mobile tour helps women envision a career at GE that they wouldn’t have considered otherwise.