by Bess Healy

Turning the tide in STEM career roadblocks at Synchrony

27 Nov 20236 mins
Diversity and InclusionFinancial Services IndustryHiring

By providing programs and services that build on STEM education and interest in tech fields, Synchrony Financial has developed a culture of support and learning for women that feeds its increasing need for technology talent.

Bess Healy stylized
Credit: Synchrony

Despite public and internal corporate support programs, and increased awareness of male/female disparities in the workplace in terms of positions and salaries, women still come up short of equity in tech job placements.

Roughly 26% of tech jobs in the US are held by women, a decrease from about 33% in 2019, according to CompTIA’s 2023 State of the Tech Workforce report. While science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) job opportunities have risen 79% over the past three decades, and are forecast to increase 11% more through 2030, women account for only 16% of those earning a bachelor’s degree in computer and information sciences, according to according to Women Tech Network. Enrollment in college STEM courses has also declined, especially among Black and Hispanic students.

Overall, the men-to-women ratio in tech jobs has declined over the past 35 years, with half the women going into tech dropping out by the age of 35, notes Accenture. Clearly, there is a disconnect between the promise of pursuing a technology career and the reality of the number of women pursuing and maintaining STEM careers.

Minding the workforce gap

Supporting women through all stages in their learning and career development can help reduce this gap. This includes making course content more relevant, improving the educational and cultural climate in classrooms, and restructuring entry-level tech classes to make them more inclusive and less forbidding, notes the Association for Women in Science, a professional organization for women who work in STEM jobs. Companies and IT organizations can also help by providing formal support and mentoring programs, fostering a culture that recognizes and encourages women in tech roles, and collaborating with organizations that offer STEM training and programs to young girls and women.

It’s important to remember that confidence starts young. Synchrony, for example, partners with Girls Who Code, an international nonprofit organization that helps support and increase the number of women in computer science. I have been our Executive Sponsor for the past two years.

We supported Girls Who Code’s summer program, which just completed its eighth session, with skill building opportunities for students aged 18 to 25. In addition to learning valuable skills in areas such as cybersecurity, AI, and NFTs, as well as soft skills like empathy and humanity, summer program participants can meet with Synchrony’s HR managers to discuss future career opportunities both within the company and in the industry.

After high school and college, it’s key to keep women engaged. To meet growing demand for learning and staying up to date with the latest skills, Synchrony collaborates with local governments, schools, and skills-credentialing organizations to prepare students and individuals seeking to reskill or reenter the workforce. We’ve worked with partners at University of Illinois Research Park, University of Connecticut, and locally in Stamford, Conn., to help students of all ages gain real-world skills in AI, data science, and other emerging technologies. In addition to closing the skills gap, we also want to help increase diversity in technology and in our workforces.

Advancements in technology, like the continued development of generative AI and Web3, is also driving our needs for internal talent building and reskilling. To maintain a strong talent pipeline that includes both new and existing employees, Synchrony has done the following:

  • Established a Business Leadership Program (BLP) for early career candidates. Participants in Technology and Operations tracks take part in “challenges” where they spend two to three months learning about a technology and doing development with that technology. Topics include native app development, cloud technologies, and incubation. BLP Tech members have the opportunity to complete their Scrum master certification and go on to receive AWS certification as part of their rotation. The Ops track is also open to Synchrony employees interested in expanding their skillset.
  • Launched a Veterans Leadership Program. This talent development and hiring initiative was created this year in our Charlotte, N.C., hub to ease the often difficult transition from military service to a corporate civilian career.This is a particular passion point for me as I served in the US Army for seven years. Twice each year, Synchrony will recruit a class of vets and provide them with 13 months of skills training and experiences for fast-growing roles, including cybersecurity and data analytics within our Technology and Operations organization. They are paired with a veteran mentor within Synchrony to help them on their career journey. Successful participants include Kiara Silvestre, a mom of three who is transitioning to the corporate world after almost nine years of service in the US Army.
  • Created an internal life/work balance support structure. Once women are in the workforce, it is critical to give them (and everyone else) the flexibility they need to excel in and out of the office. Remember, women are disproportionally responsible for home responsibilities such as child and elder care. Whether it’s allowing flexible schedules so employees can go to a doctor appointment or enabling a full-time hybrid work culture, flexibility is an essential part of attracting and retaining top talent.
  • Provided programs and services that encourage self-improvement. If your business model can support it, it’s helpful to offer tuition and certification reimbursement, apprenticeships, and increased training opportunities. At Synchrony, for example, we’ve included tuition reimbursement up to $20,000 annually and up to $9,000 per year for technology certifications. We also launched a non-degree professional development pilot with more than 200 employees.

Taking a flexible approach to skills development

As with any business initiative, it’s important to continually listen to employees and take an agile approach with education programs and benefits. For example, we piloted a Tech Apprenticeship program earlier this year to provide individuals with nontraditional backgrounds a year-long apprenticeship in fast-growing fields of AI and cybersecurity and close gaps in tech skills, which could lead to full-time tech roles at Synchrony. From that pilot, we came up with the idea to create cohorts on our “Flex Fridays” for interested employees of all levels to learn more about AI.

While Synchrony has done a lot in terms of supporting women in their STEM journey and goals, there will always be new roads to take and avenues to explore. Now is the time to work collectively and break down the barriers women face in the workforce. By diversifying the talent within an organization, partnering with nonprofits with similar missions to support employees, and providing learning opportunities along the way, all employees and their respective companies come out on top.

by Bess Healy

Bess Healy is CIO at Synchrony, one of the nation’s premier consumer financial services companies. She leads a team of technologists responsible for partnering with functional leaders and customers to capture needs and implement digital first technology solutions. She previously held the position of CTO and was SVP of Operations Strategy and Transformation focusing on customer experience and servicing.  Earlier at Synchrony, she served as the GM for Walmart and held various senior technology roles. She has led technology strategy and program leadership for enterprise operations, including digital and traditional customer service, collections, fraud, and facilities. She was also instrumental in building the technology infrastructure required for separation from the General Electric company. Additionally, she is a Six Sigma Blackbelt. Prior to joining GE, Bess served in the United States Army for seven years as an Officer in the Adjutant General’s Corps in the US and Germany. She is an active supporter of Synchrony’s Veterans Network and serves as Executive Sponsor for Synchrony’s partnership with Girls Who Code. Bess attended the United States Military Academy at West Point where she received her B.S. in Environmental Engineering.