Why aren't there more UK women in STEM?
Despite hard campaigning for equality, women still make up just 13% of the overall workforce in critical Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects. To make matters worse, one of the lowest representations is within cyber security – which is suffering a well-publicised skills shortage.
But thankfully, it’s not all bad news… The gender gap is most definitely narrowing within schools, colleges and universities which provide the vital springboard for careers.
While there’s still a male majority across all STEM subjects, the UK's Higher Education Statistics Agency shows that 69% of students studying medical technology-related degrees are women. Females also make up the majority of anthropology (72%), ophthalmics (69%), anatomy, physiology and pathology (64%) and forensic science (61%). Before that, more female students are taking STEM subjects in secondary school, and girls are doing just as well as boys in school.
It's clear we’ve come a long way from the ‘Dinosaur Days’ of thinking that only boys are good at maths, or girls in arts. Although brains are physically different between genders, there's no evidence that these differences translate into cognitive strengths and weaknesses.
But the gender gap remains stubbornly in place at career level. Why is this, and more importantly, what else can we do to close it?
Traditionally, when we think of STEM workers, we imagine men in hard hats or sat behind a computer – and perception is everything. It’s worth facing up to any in-built biases or assumptions your business might have, as this can leave women feeling marginalised.
It’s not just innocent opinion or joking that’s to blame, either. Research shows that male applicants are significantly favoured over female ones – even when they have identical qualifications.
To many women, STEM can still feel like a man's world. With men making up the majority of staff, a macho culture can pervade throughout an organisation. It has been well documented that women often receive lower pay- for example, female software developers earn 20% less than their male counterparts.
High turnover of staff
All these factors, combined with a lack of childcare or unremarkable maternity leave policies, add up to women leaving STEM early in their careers. Many firms revolve around long or irregular working hours and shift patterns – especially in research roles. This is starting to change as more staff take advantage of flexi-time or working from home.
So what's next?
We won’t reach gender equality overnight bust just by reading this, you're making the first steps towards facing the issue. To find out other ideas for how to attract more women into STEM roles – and make sure they stay – download our free guide.
This article includes research and opinion sourced by OneFile at the time of publication. Things may have changed since then,
so this research is to be used at the reader's discretion. OneFile is not liable for any action taken based on this research.