According to 2019 figures from the UK government, there are now just over a million women (1,019,400) in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workforce. This translates to an increase of more than 350,000 women (24%) entering these areas of work. While this may be encouraging to hear, there is still a long way to go for gender equality in these male-dominated industries.
The UK has set a goal to have 1.5 million women in STEM occupations by 2030, which would see 30% of this workforce filled by women. According to the Harvard University Institute of Politics, 30% is the “critical mass” level where a minority group of women would have the ability to influence real change.
In a post-pandemic, post-Brexit world, women in STEM have become more important than ever. These two events have highlighted issues within these sectors which we will look at here.
Diverse perspectives. Melinda French Gates, renowned philanthropist and former general manager at Microsoft, said: “Innovation happens when we approach urgent challenges from every different point of view. Bringing women and underrepresented minorities into the field guarantees that we see the full range of solutions to the real problems that people face in the world.”
The pandemic taught us that empathetic, reactive and agile leadership was essential to help curb the spread of the virus. Legislation brought in by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern helped stamp out the coronavirus virus across the entire country. It has been reported that female leaders have handled the pandemic crisis well.
Now, more than ever, it is important to have a female point of view in the workplace, not just in politics and running countries, but in industries where women are underrepresented. Women can bring diverse and fresh perspectives to male-dominated fields, creating a better platform for innovation, creativity and decision-making.
Embracing and encouraging women in STEM. Glass ceilings can be one of the primary reasons why women shy away from degrees and occupations in STEM. Throughout their education, girls are systematically drawn away from science and math courses, which discourages them from pursuing opportunities and training to enter these fields professionally.
We can encourage women to pursue STEM by:
- Exposing girls to STEM material and introduce female role models in these industries at a young age.
- Encourage participation in STEM programs through funding and ambassadors.
- Break down stereotypes around male and female careers.
Exacerbated Inequality. The pandemic affected the world in many different ways – one being that it unraveled the limited progress we had made toward gender equality over the last couple of decades. While research has reported that men are more susceptible to severe effects of Covid-19, women have paid more of the financial and social toll. Women in insecure, informal and lower-paid jobs experienced more loss of employment. Furthermore, Black, Asian and ethnic minority women were hit hardest by job cuts.
Working in STEM, you’re likely to have a high-paid job. There is a lot of growth in these jobs as well as high employment rates for graduates and being revolutionized by technology. Women are at a disadvantage by being underrepresented in some of the most lucrative and secure industries.
According to the UN’s report, Policy Brief: The Impact of Covid-19 on Women: “Across the globe, women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs, are more likely to be employed in the informal sector. They have less access to social protections and are the majority of single-parent households. Their capacity to absorb economic shocks is therefore less than that of men.”
It’s important we open doors for women into STEM to not only benefit the industry but to create better opportunities for both women and the world. If you’re interested in pursuing STEM courses at university but have already applied for another course, explore your options; from to business degrees, to apprenticeships.