‘What if female scientists were celebrities?’: GE says it will place 20,000 women in technical roles by 2020

Millie dresselhaus
GE also released a new ad starring physicist Millie Dresselhaus. GE

GE is making a commitment to close the gender gap at its organisation by promising to place 20,000 women in technical roles by 2020.

The company also wants to obtain 50:50 gender representation in all its entry-level technical programs, GE announced in a press release on Wednesday.

GE currently employs 14,700 women in engineering, manufacturing, IT, and product management, representing 18% of the company’s technical workforce.

The company also released a whitepaper on Wednesday looking into the economic benefits of a gender-balanced workforce. The study quoted OECD research, for example which found that closing the gender gap could increase GDP by up to 10% by 2030.

It also cited a 2004 study, from nonprofit workplace inclusion organisation Catalyst, which found that more gender-diverse companies performed 53% better than those that are not gender diverse.

GE chief economist Marco Annunziata said in a statement: “Unless we bring more women into technology and manufacturing, there will be a significant negative economic impact on the sector. This is a problem for business to actively address.”

To help launch the commitment, GE launched a new TV ad that asks the question: “What if female scientists were celebrities?”

The ad puts the spotlight on 86-year-old Millie Dresselhaus, the first woman to win the US National Medal of Science in Engineering. She is best-known for her work on carbon science and she has received numerous awards including, in 2014, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The spot sees the general public rushing to take selfies with Dresselhaus and her latest moves being treated as breaking news on mainstream TV channels and magazine covers.

GE’s internal diversity efforts are being led by its chief technology officer Vic Abate, chief digital officer Bill Ruh, and the VP of its accelerated leadership program Lorraine Bolsinger. The company has also set up a chief technology officer advisory council to advise on its efforts, it is expanding its “leading without bias” training, and it is testing ways to hold managers accountable for creating and inclusive working environment.

The company hopes to accelerate hiring women in technical roles by trying new types of recruiting, including a US “university campus tour experience” in March,

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