Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences | VOL. 119
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Preventing soft skill decay among early-career women in STEM during COVID-19: Evidence from a longitudinal intervention

Publication Date Aug 1, 2022

Abstract

As the workforce shifts to being predominantly hybrid and remote, how can companies help employees—particularly early-career women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields—develop greater confidence in their soft skills, shown to improve organizational retention? We evaluate the effects of an online longitudinal intervention to develop soft skills among early-career women employees at a North American biotechnology company during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Controlling for baseline levels collected immediately prior to nationwide lockdowns, we find that a 6-month online intervention increased early-career women’s assessments of their soft skills at work by an average of 9% ( P < 0.001), compared with a decrease of about 3.5% for a matched control group ( P < 0.05), resulting in an average treatment effect of nearly 13% on the treated group. Furthermore, we find evidence that the intervention led to an increase in manager-assessed performance for early-career women relative to employees not in the intervention, and that overall, increased self-assessments of soft skill competencies were associated with greater odds of retention. Results show how employee soft skill development was affected by the pandemic and provide insights for a feasible and cost-effective method to train and engage a hybrid or fully remote workforce.

Concepts

Early-career Women Soft Skill Longitudinal Intervention 6-month Intervention Mathematics Fields Average Effect Feasible Method Effects Of Intervention Engineering Fields Technology Fields

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