Global fashion retailer H&M has said it is committed to levelling up the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) playing field, and has launched a new scheme supporting its goals in this space.
With the aim of inspiring women and non-binary people, in particular, to reach for roles in STEM, H&M has partnered with social enterprise Stemettes to work on several initiatives over the course of the year that it hopes will make a difference – all the while giving H&M access to future tech talent and scientific thinking.
Participants involved in the H&M-Stemettes programme, which comprises multiple parts, will get the opportunity to explore what a career in STEM-based employment can bring and how these disciplines can contribute to a more sustainable fashion future.
STEM role models from a range of fields within H&M’s organisation, including artificial intelligence (AI), customer-centric technology, assortment and product development, will be involved in the initiative, interacting and sharing their experiences with those who sign up.
The retailer said the programme marks a key step in its quest to become a more inclusive and diverse organisation. It added that the representation of women and non-binary people in the STEM fields is an important equality issue that needs readdressing, arguing that these groups have been historically underrepresented in these disciplines.
The partnership with Stemettes in the UK will be followed by a series of similar STEM programmes soon to be rolled out by H&M Group in other territories around the globe. Ultimately, H&M wants to inspire future STEM talents to create meaningful impact, bring more diversity to the field, and create a more inclusive fashion environment as a result.
Kirsty Finn-Murphy, UK & Ireland country human resources manager at H&M, said: “We believe our H&M role models collaborating with these young talents will inspire them to choose a career within STEM.”
Pascal Brun, head of sustainability at H&M, added: “This is about the future and how we bring tech, science and data into the core of what we do. I think through this programme, we could position ourselves and attract future talent which will be a core competence in future.”
Another spokesperson told Computer Weekly: “This programme positions H&M to attract future talent within STEM, which will be a core competence in the future. However, that is not the key focus of our partnership with Stemettes or our global STEM initiatives.
“By taking a holistic approach, we hope to positively impact the communities in which we work and live by investing in young women and non-binary people, building new connections and expanding our focus on the issues that most affect diversity and inclusion within STEM, including representation.
“By diversifying the opinions and voices within our brand, group and the fashion industry, we hope to drive forward creative thinking and innovation which will help create sustainable fashion solutions.
“It also gives us an opportunity to explain how the world of fashion is changing and create awareness on why new competence such as STEM are needed to tackle and solve the sustainability challenges the industry is working on.”
Live events, hackathons and one-to-one mentoring
Stemettes works primarily across the UK and Ireland, operating with the aim to inspire and support young women and non-binary people to find their path in STEM.
The group provides year-round mentoring opportunities and runs school holiday programmes including, for example, an Explore initiative that gives seven to 21-year-olds multiple sessions that can lead to a qualification in cyber or scripting language Python.
Working with H&M will give Stemettes some real-life talking points around how these careers look and function in today’s business world.
Anne-Marie Imafidon, CEO and co-founder of Stemettes, said the H&M partnership will bring STEM career opportunities “to the masses”.
“We have a duty to show the sustainability, creativity and teamwork at play in the fashion industry – all skills which are much needed in the next generation of innovators who will build and lead the future,” she said.
A virtual panel and speed networking event on 19 February 2022 brought Stemettes and H&M together for the first time, with those who signed up introduced to H&M’s role models to gain an understanding of the types of retail career available in the field.
These professionals discussed their career beginnings and experiences, and key talking points revolved around suitable A-level choices and university degrees for a STEM-themed career and what the panellists actually do on a day-to-day basis at H&M.
On 26-27 March, the organisations will co-host a virtual hackathon focused on the theme of sustainability in the fashion industry, targeting an audience of young women and non-binary people aged 15-19.
Those signing up for the event will work in teams to design a product or business solution to create sustainable impact within the fashion industry. In its marketing literature for the hackathon, Stemettes suggests teams might want to create an app that demonstrates how much water is used each time one buys a new garment or improvements to current production processes to make them more sustainable.
“Are you able to present an idea that encourages people to become more mindful about making the world more sustainable for all?” the social enterprise asks potential candidates, highlighting the breadth of ideas it hopes the event will generate.
The two-day hackathon will end with the teams presenting their ideas to a panel of judges, with prizes on offer to the winning groups and goodie bags to all participants – but there will be one-to-one mentoring for the participants throughout.
Ruth Harrison, global head of industry domains and a member of the digital, equity and inclusion steering group at tech consultancy Thoughtworks, is positive about the scheme.
“The pandemic has propelled digital services to the fore and online shopping habits will remain. As a result, there is a need for many retailers to accelerate their digital capabilities, this will also require reskilling, upskilling and hiring digital talent,” she said.
“There is a lack of digital skills in the UK, and women and underrepresented minority groups have not seen technology as a career – the fusion of fashion and tech could be quite attractive and introduce a whole new demographic to the industry.
“I foresee other retailers watching this closely – the war for talent is fierce right now, and this initiative could not only address skills shortages by attracting women and underrepresented communities, but also improve inclusion. It could be a win-win,” she added.