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How can we encourage more women into STEM careers?

Image: Adobe Stock / Angelo J/

Women are underrepresented in STEM but we can change this, writes Sheila Flavell CBE, COO of FDM Group.

Only 15% of jobs in STEM are occupied by women. This deprives young girls of visible role models, impacting their interest and confidence in STEM subjects.

The gender gap becomes more pronounced as girls transition from school to university and, subsequently, to the workplace, with declining numbers at each stage. They experience a drop in uptake of STEM subjects, leaving a smaller talent pool of women to enter STEM roles, exacerbating the overall underrepresentation in the sector.

The workplace, too, presents considerable challenges for women in STEM. Gender-based biases and stereotypes persist leading to some women (32% white and 50% black women in one US study) being mistaken for administrative staff rather than recognised for their professional expertise. Unequal growth opportunities and the gender pay gap add to the obstacles women face.T he average median pay gap across the UK was 14.9% in favour of male employees.

In technical roles, promotions to managerial positions are often limited or inaccessible for women, despite their qualifications – in one study, 40% of women had lost a promotion to a less qualified male colleague. Moreover, the workplace environment may not be inclusive, with women often outnumbered by men in STEM teams. Such a gender imbalance can lead to feelings of isolation and reduced job satisfaction.

As a result, women in STEM may struggle to achieve recognition, advance in their careers, and receive equal compensation, and even support when it comes to maternity leave. The cumulative effect of these challenges is the perpetuation of the gender gap in STEM fields, undermining the potential contributions of women to these vital industries and hampering efforts to address the talent gap in these sectors.

How we can improve this

Addressing the gender gap in STEM requires a comprehensive approach. First, we must promote inclusivity in early education and extracurricular activities by challenging stereotypes and providing female role models like women teachers and professionals in STEM.

Another critical solution is creating supportive workplaces. Companies can commit to diversity and inclusion initiatives that ensure equal growth opportunities, eradicate the gender pay gap, and create an inclusive culture where women feel valued and respected. Efforts should be made to increase the visibility of women in leadership positions within STEM organisations, thus inspiring younger generations of female talent.

Reskilling and upskilling opportunities should also be offered to enable women to start or re-enter STEM careers at any stage. These programmes allow women of all ages and backgrounds to acquire the skills and confidence necessary to enter or re-enter the tech industry, addressing the gender gap at all career stages. For example, the She Lives Tech initiative at FDM Group facilitates this.

Moreover, mandatory gender pay gap reporting can hold organisations accountable and encourage them to eliminate wage disparities. This transparency forces companies to assess their compensation practices and take corrective actions where necessary.

Finally, active collaboration between governments, educational institutions, businesses, and advocacy groups is crucial. Together, they can create policies and programmes that support the inclusion and retention of women in STEM fields.

Closing thoughts

By implementing these solutions collectively, we can make substantial progress in bridging the gender gap in STEM and harness the diverse talents of women to drive innovation and meet the demand for STEM professionals on a global scale.

Picture of Sheila Flavell
Sheila Flavell
COO of FDM Group

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