Women in STEM

This blog will take you through some of the main reasons that women in STEM are underrepresented and the key issues women face when they do find work in STEM fields.  We’ve also included some ways as a business you can improve the situation and some tips for women looking to get into the sector.

For years women have been underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Scholars are exploring the various reasons for the continued lack of  gender inequality in STEM fields. Those who view this inequality as resulting from discriminatory forces are also seeking ways to redress it (these typically construed as well-compensated, high-status professions with universal career appeal). Even though the tech industry is becoming more diverse and companies are creating resource groups to help them increase diversity in their organisation, the gender gap is still a pressing issue which needs tackling. Especially when increasing women in STEM has so many benefits, one of them being that it will increase the UK’s labour value by at least £2bn.

Why is there a lack of women in STEM?

The lack of women in STEM comes from the lack of awareness shown to girls in school and the encouragement to study STEM education further at university. Additionally, there are a few stereotypes that can discourage girls from taking STEM subjects at school. For example,  the stereotype about people who work in STEM being nerdy or socially awkward and the negative stereotype about their intellectual abilities. In order to start closing the gender gap in STEM careers, organisations need to focus on girls in STEM as they are the next generation who can start to make a difference.

There is a noticeable gap between girls and boys that study STEM subjects beyond GCSE and into higher education (35% of girls and 80% of boys). At university, there are only 25% of graduates in STEM subjects who are women and 52% are males. The main reason as to why there is such a gap between the two is down to a pipeline issue. Fewer girls are picking STEM subjects at school due to it being seen as a male-dominated subject. Knowing that your class is going to be full of boys can be off-putting for girls, especially at secondary school age.

It has been shown that more boys are attracted to a STEM career compared to girls who are more attracted to HEED subjects to pursue a career in health, primary education and domestic as the majority of girls get job satisfaction out of helping people. Research consistently points to the high regard girls and young women place on having a job that directly helps the world or other people. If they were aware of how STEM subjects can give them an opportunity which is still within their interest, then this could help close the gender gap. Most girls aren’t told how studying for a STEM degree can help them in a career which gives them the job satisfaction they are looking for.

Women in STEM

More role models for women in STEM

Having more visible female role models for girls in STEM would also help to close the gender gap. If girls in secondary school were to see more females succeeding in STEM careers, then it would empower them to take STEM subjects and potentially pursue a career in the related fields. Giving girls real-life examples of women in STEM would help them to model themselves after those successful women. Young girls need role models that they can relate to, inspire them and not to abandon their STEM potential.

Some of the top IT & consulting organisations such as Accenture, PWC, and KPMG are focusing more on bringing back women in technology by offering flexible work arrangements, job share opportunities, and part time work. The aim for these businesses is to have more women at senior leadership level as role models and to promote more women in STEM.

Women in STEM and the gender pay gap

Female college graduates earned less on average than male college graduates, even though they shared the earnings growth of all college graduates in the 1980s. Some of the differences in salary are related to the differences in occupations entered by women and men. Among recent science and engineering bachelor’s degree recipients, women were less likely than men to be employed in science and engineering occupations. There remains a wage gap between men and women in comparable scientific positions. Among more experienced scientists and engineers, the gender gap in salaries is greater than for recent graduates. Salaries are highest in mathematics, computer science, and engineering, which are fields in which women are not highly represented.

What can businesses do to improve the situation?

The lack of women in STEM roles is a result of the lack of girls not studying STEM-related subjects and wanting to pursue a career in the field. However, the issues don’t stop there, any woman with a stem job is likely to experience discrimination and even harassment at work.

Over half of women in STEM  who work in a mostly male-dominated workplace felt a kind of discrimination. Before the national conversation of Me Too, one in five women in STEM also stated that their gender has made it hard for them to succeed at work and receive promotions.

Women in STEM who are in their mid-careers are facing several challenges and priorities. If organisations want to recruit and retain more women in STEM careers, they should consider the following:

  • Combating stereotypes – Join Women in Tech network groups on Social Media

One simple intervention is simply educating individuals about the existence of stereotype threat. Join Women in Tech Social Media groups to enhance your network and be part of the change.

  • Giving a promotion to more women/ have them part of the Leadership team

40% of women have stated that they have been passed over when promotions have been offered to someone less qualified than them of the opposite sex. They also feel they haven’t been given an opportunity to step up from the position they are currently in and wonder if they have to leave their employer to be promoted.

  • Creating flexibility

Women understand that it isn’t necessarily easy to maintain a work-life balance, however, they do want more flexibility to manage a work-life dynamic. Women are still dedicated to their jobs but want to spend more time with their family, friends and personal interests.

  • Narrow the gender pay gap

If men and women received equal pay in tech, it would be easier to attract women into technology. When men are paid more than women for the same job, there will always be less enthusiasm to pursue a career in that field from women.

How do you go about getting into STEM as a female?

Get to know the sector

STEM is a broad sector with several different career paths. From programming and coding to technology advisors, the careers available to someone who wants to get into the industry are varied. Before getting into the industry, it is advised that you do research on the different pathways to take and to see what interests you the most.

Once you have decided on an aspect of STEM that interests you, it is beneficial to think about what sort of values and culture you are looking for from an employer. With the STEM industry currently being dominated by males, it is important to find out what employers can offer you as a female in terms of career development.

Have confidence in yourself

When trying to get into the STEM industry, it is important that you remain confident in your abilities. This should come across both in your verbal and written abilities, particularly in the application and interview process. Entering a career path in STEM that interests and excites you is important because you are more likely to be confident when speaking with a potential employer about the trends in STEM and when explaining why you are a good fit for the role.

Research suggests that women are typically less confident than males in relation to career choices. Therefore, it is important that you are confident in your skills and abilities to do well and succeed in the career path that you are entering.

Gain experience

Gaining some work experience to show to employers is a great way of demonstrating how motivated and interested you are in entering the STEM industry. Gaining experience is also a great way of understanding the type of work you will be doing and what the role entails. Attending networking events can also help build experience as you get to learn from those who currently work in the industry and are not just learning from a textbook.

A number of companies have industry events that are designed to bring back women into technology.

What opportunities are there for female graduates in STEM?

There are several opportunities for females to get into the STEM industry after they have graduated. They can go on to study further, or they can start applying for tech jobs straight away.

Some of the best STEM jobs for female graduates can be Developers, Business Analysts or Project Managers. All of these roles help female grads to develop skills which are transferable between different tech roles, giving them more opportunity to enter different fields within tech throughout their career.

The best places to find STEM jobs can be online, through recruitment agencies, career fairs and by networking. Graduate schemes are also very beneficial to those finishing university. Most large companies offer graduate schemes which gives techies an opportunity to get into the working world.

Most grad schemes last around 2 years, but companies give you full training within the field and sometimes allow you to go on external courses too in order to broaden your knowledge further.

Need help with your women in STEM strategy?

If you’re business operates in a STEM field then this blog should have highlighted some issues you may have been aware of but might not have known how to improve. If you want to be part of the solution and start hiring and empowering more women in STEM then contact us. We can help you reach a more diverse and talented candidate pool and ensure that the women that do work for you feel valued in your business. We’ll work with you to make sure your female stem workforce has a clear idea of the route to progress within the organisational chain. If you want to know more please contact one of our experts.

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