Women leave science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields at higher rates than men do. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this problem. As companies emerge from the pandemic, interventions that prevent the gender gap from widening are critical for retaining a diverse STEM workforce. We evaluate an intervention to improve women’s confidence in their soft skills, an important predictor of workplace retention among women. We leverage rare longitudinal data collected from biotechnology employees immediately before and during the pandemic. Early-career women in the intervention experienced significant gains in their perceived soft skills, while similarly situated women experienced a decline. Furthermore, soft skill improvements were associated with significant increases in retention, suggesting the importance of soft skill development for early-career women post-pandemic.
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.