We have, as a society, come a long way in redressing the balance between the sexes in the workplace. When it comes to a career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), it seems we have a fair way to go yet. Opportunities abound in these industries but it remains true that men are far more likely to pursue a career in a tech field than women. Is it still a job for the boys? What more can be done in promoting STEM jobs among women?
Let’s start by looking at the facts: roughly half of the UK workforce are women, yet less than 15% of the STEM workforce are women. That is quite a difference, especially when you consider the fact that girls consistently outscore boys in science and maths at GCSE level. It is also worth mentioning that more women than men graduate each year at degree level. If we have so much talent out there and yet such a disparity in the STEM workforce, where are they going? Figures show that, despite female students’ success in their GCSEs, only 20% of them go on to study STEM subjects at ‘A’ level. That is quite a leakage of talent so why is it happening?
This is an important matter; it isn’t just about women missing out on opportunities available to them, it is about the loss to the UK economy as a whole. It’s not as if the jobs aren’t out there: employers are crying out for talented individuals, both men and women, to help drive them forward, to be more innovative and more competitive. One of the major problems that they face is that other careers outside the STEM disciplines, such as in the financial sector, are enticing them away upon graduation with the promise of more lucrative rewards.
Why aren’t more women attracted to a career in STEM? It has been suggested that there is a lack of encouragement for girls to follow a career in STEM, both at home and amongst their peer groups. Perhaps there still exists the attitude of “that’s no job for a woman”? Some say it is especially true for girls in less well-off families, where there are no scientists or engineers to offer encouragement.
What can be done to redress the balance and offer the necessary encouragement for girls to follow a career in STEM? For a start there is a need for positive role models. Girls are bombarded on television and social media by negative role models that tell them women can only make something of themselves if they make a fool of themselves on (un)reality TV or marry footballers. This is incredibly damaging. They should be introduced to women who are successful in their own STEM careers and are pushing the boundaries of knowledge and understanding; leaders in their field. Schools, colleges and employers should promote and celebrate the achievements of women in STEM. This can be a powerful incentive for the young woman to follow in their footsteps and add their own skills and intellect.
Employers should put in extra effort to make themselves more attractive as a place to work. They should consider flexible working patterns, further learning and advancement opportunities and greater rewards. Girls should be encouraged from an early age to pursue their interests – if they are gifted in scientific subjects or mathematics then every effort should be made by the family and school to help them discover just what they are capable of achieving.
If changes are made in the way STEM is promoted as a career for women then perhaps more girls would see it as an ambition. Imagine what effect dipping into that untapped vein of talent would have: Britain could take its place as a world leader in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and the economy would bloom.
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