The global chip making industry came to Bristol to look for its next generation of talent, focussing on diversity, not just in gender and race but also to attract people different backgrounds.  

“Diversity enables a company to make more money,” said Emily Clark, part of the sales team at Applied Materials which makes equipment for tech companies around the world, including Apple.

Speaking at a panel session at the SEMI Global Talent forum (above), she points out that having more than 20% of women in management leads to a 10% increase in innovation revenue.

“It provides better decision making and minimises group think – we have to make really hard decisions every day and if you have people that think the same way you come to a quick decision that is very likely to be wrong,” she said.

She points out that it also provides access to the best talent, which is a key requirement for companies. “People applying for jobs value diversity, as being the only person of whatever type in a room is difficult, it makes it difficult to speak up and allows people to treat you poorly. There are not enough people in England to work in the English semi industry, there are not enough people in Europe to work in the European semiconductor industry, so we need diversity, but there’s definitely barriers that needs to be overcome.”

A local high tech equipment maker started down this path several years ago.

“Around 10 years ago we started to grow rapidly and the senior team recognised there was a massive shortage of talent in the industry and that there was a massive narrowing of our talent pool, that it was not diverse enough, including the senior management,” said Claire Harrington, global Vice President of Human Resources at semiconductor equipment maker SPTS in Newport. 

“That’s a hard thing for an executive team to admit and that was the big changing point – you can’t really change things unless you believe there’s a benefit in terms of sales, customer service and profitability, and the senior team embraced that,” she said.  

“We have done things like encouraging girls into STEM subjects through a STEM ambassador project through primary, secondary schools and colleges and universities, but it take a long term so we have had to really work on retaining the women that we have,” she said. This includes flexible working for all employees, not just women “This has been a really big thing for us, to encourage it for all employees,” she said. “We have as many men working flexible hours and women so the women do not stand out.”

Another local high tech equipment maker points to lack of confidence as a contributing factor.

“Be brave,” said Charmayne Hall, HR for the plasma division of Oxford Instruments in Yatton, just outside Bristol. “Often as women it’s really hard to take steps and as you do that your mind can catch up – say yes, not no.”

The panel highlighted that diversity includes different backgrounds, not just race or gender.

“Diversity is not enough, you need inclusion,” said Hall. “For things to change we have to be brave enough to challenge it. It’s not enough to offer training to our managers, it’s about the genuine belief that there needs to be change.”

The panel pointed out that we need to change the dynamic and we need people in senior leadership roles to champion people from different backgrounds even if it feels difficult. One way to address it is to specifically target schools in underprivileged areas, and SPTS is working with SEMI’s High Tech U programme for the first time in the UK. This engages with schools around the site in Newport to boost interest in tech subjects.

Nick Flaherty