Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are industries famously dominated by men. In these sectors, the ratio of women employees is extremely low in comparison to men — 2017 statistics illustrate that only 23 per cent of the STEM workforce was made up of women. Of course, this is low, however it is 105,470 higher than statistics from 2016.
Judging from research and media coverage, it seems that attitudes towards STEM-related careers being more appropriate for men are changing. This year has seen some of the biggest names and influential figures in the industry being women, such as Kate Bouman, the woman who engineered the first image of a black hole. In this article, we track how more women have entered STEM than any other field in the past four decades.
LinkedIn conducted data analysis into the gender gap in STEM, reporting that the industries had more women enter the field over the last four decades than any other. Philanthropist and former general manager at Microsoft, Melinda Gates, 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”.
Two years ago, Fitbit was criticised for the period tracker having a 10-day cycle. If more women were involved in the creation, they would’ve realised this was three days too long. In the States, the tech industry is one of the highest paying fields — yet women are still paid less than their male counterparts.
Bridging the bias gap
Unfortunately, we all have biases. They’ve become a natural part of the way we think, especially when we’ve been raised with the idea that men are better suited for certain jobs than women. Charles Darwin described women as intellectual inferiors and universities rejected women up until the 20th century.
Laura Segal, senior vice president for the American Association of University Women, said: “Teachers and parents provide explicit and implicit messages starting in early childhood that boys and men are ‘better’ at math, and the gaps in the professions reinforce the opportunities, culture and lack of role models that perpetuate male dominance”.
From 2012, there has been an increase in initiatives from schools, universities and recruitment agencies in the UK to encourage females to pursue STEM-related careers. Previously, female students reported avoiding STEM courses because of a lack of female role models to identify with. If girls were taught about female role models like Marie Curie, for example, who discovered the effects of radiation, perhaps they’d be more inclined to pursue a career in the field.
To fight this ingrained bias, exam boards have introduced more content with famous women in the industry. Rosalind Franklin, a woman central to the understanding of DNA, has been taught across the nation. This has been linked to this year’s A-level results, which saw female students studying STEM courses (50.3%) outnumber male students (49.7%).
In positive news, philanthropists keen to fix the gender gap in STEM industries have donated towards supporting women in the industry. $25 million has been funded to boost girls’ interest by changing the narrative that they’re masculine careers. It’s expected to inspire other girls to follow other successful women.
It’s been reported that a large proportion of women leave male dominated work environments, like engineering, due to a toxic masculine culture. They noted that they had to work twice as hard to be taken seriously and to earn respect. Lyda Hill Philanthropies have introduced 125 female ambassadors to represent the different STEM-related careers. Part of the donation will be used to fund grants for women to study STEM courses.
Empowering through apprenticeships
According to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, a lack of skilled STEM workers in the UK is costing the nation £1.5 billion a year. Apprenticeships have an equal gender balance, yet only nine per cent of STEM apprentices are women. A disappointing statistic, the government is trying to fix this disparity by helping women become more informed about apprenticeships to help them access STEM-related careers.
Automotive dealers Lookers, who offer a range of new cars, launched a female apprenticeship scheme back in 2018. The aim is to double the amount of their female apprenticeships and provide a positive environment to encourage and attract women to STEM.
Although yes, there has been progress in promoting women in STEM, including gender-neutral language in STEM related advertisements, there is still room for improvement.