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Booking.com will offer grants to a chosen group of women planning on pursuing a career in technology.
The travel comparison website has partnered with the University of Oxford in the UK, and the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands to introduce the Booking.com Women in Technology Scholarship, designed to support women in technology education planning on joining the industry.
Yvonne Agyei, chief people officer at Booking.com, said the firm wanted to support more women in technology because: “Across the board in the technology industry, we see the challenge of women not being represented.”
Running across two years, a grant of €500,000 will be split between both partner universities to provide 15 scholarships beginning in the 2018/2019 academic year.
These scholarships will be used to support 10 women from across the EU for a one-year masters across three departments at the University of Oxford, and five women looking to do a two-year masters at TU Delft and its worldwide partner universities.
In many cases, girls choose to stop taking science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) based subjects from an early age, but there are people dropping out of the technology pipeline at all levels.
By offering these scholarships, Booking.com hopes to encourage more women to stay on the technology route to prevent drop-off after university level education. “Women tend to drop out at all stages,” said Agyei. “All the way through even into the workforce – this is one area we see as critical and we want to get women into higher education.”
Read more about diversity in tech
The scholarships are aimed at candidates who are already looking to advance to masters-level education in a technology-focused field, so to apply, candidates will follow the normal application processes for the courses covered by the scholarships at the partner universities, after which the universities will match successful candidates with the scholarships that are available.
Admissions teams from each university will choose candidates that fit the requirements for the scholarships who will then receive grants from Booking.com to cover their university fees and living expenses for their courses.
Though many universities were considered for these partnerships, Agyei said the two that were chosen “already had the infrastructure and have processes in place for selecting the potential recipients”, allowing Booking.com to participate without being part of the selection process for candidates.
Many claim girls choose not to pursue careers in Stem because there are a lack of visible role models, with research finding young girls want to see more women in tech encouraging them to pursue Stem careers, and Agyei claimed by offering these scholarships there will be more role models at all levels for people to aspire to.
“We know how critical it is to have role models,” said Agyei, who said seeing these role models makes young people feel they can pursue these careers too.
“Role models within all levels and in different areas of the business are very important,” he added.
Internally, around 20% of Booking.com’s tech remit is made up of women, and though this is above average for the industry, Agyei claimed to not be doing “as well as we would like”.
The retailer has a number of initiatives in place to increase its diversity internally across the tech team and in other areas – including a focus on creating a supportive environment for employees, allowing the opportunity to network and share concerns with senior members of staff to highlight what improvements can be made, and plans to roll out unconscious bias training to all managers over the next year.
Work will also be done to eliminate bias from the internal hiring process using techniques such as ensuring a mix of people on hiring panels and encouraging managers and recruiters to “look a little bit harder” for potential talent.
“We know that’s where we often struggle to find candidates, so our tech recruiters are aware of diversity and are perhaps even more focused on that,” said Agyei.
Like many looking to increase diversity in the technology industry, Agyei claimed there is not a single answer or action that can be taken to “improve the situation” but that lots of smaller changes and initiatives need to take place.
For Booking.com, alongside its Women in Technology scholarship, these initiatives include launching the Tech Playmaker Awards to showcase some of contributions women are making to the technology industry, and running a hackathon for female developers or designers to spend an evening working on projects, which has led to some hiring opportunities from the firm.
But the diversity effort should not just focus on women, and Agyei claimed this is especially important within Booking.com as it is a “multicultural workforce” which includes people from around 150 nationalities in Amsterdam alone – the firm hopes the new initiatives it is putting in place will help to create a more balanced workforce across the board.