More needs to be done to help women see opportunities in STEM careers

IN: Guides

Almost half of young women (48 per cent) do not consider working in the sectors of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), when planning their future careers according to British Gas research.

Yet many UK companies operating in these sectors are struggling to find enough talent to meet demand. While only 13 per cent of the STEM workforce is currently made up of women, the UK engineering and construction sector expects to see a shortfall of more than 100,000 workers by 2050.

Identifying opportunities

According to the British Gas study, which gathered the opinions of over 2,000 young people aged between 15 and 22, almost a third (30 per cent) of women are overlooking careers path in STEM due to a lack of knowledge in the sectors.

Indeed, speaking to HR Magazine, Marilyn Morrison, HR director of software development consultancy Scott Logic, expressed concern about the difficulties for women in seeing the opportunities that exist for them in software, saying:

“It’s not just about developing the software; it’s about the user experience, it’s about testing, or technical project management. There is progression and such an array of roles available."

With university fees rising and the emphasis on apprenticeships as a route to work intensifying, women could be missing out on valuable career opportunities by nor pursuing roles in STEM sectors. Last year, women made up just four per cent of applicants for technical and engineering apprenticeship schemes with British Gas. Claire Miles, managing director for HomeCare at the energy company, commented:

“With boys already taking advantage of the apprenticeship opportunities available, I would encourage girls to think about engineering. Apprenticeships are a great way into an organisation, and at British Gas they allow you to earn while you learn and develop skills for life.”

Challenging perceptions of STEM

British Gas says that it is taking steps to encourage more women into the industry, including hosting open days aimed at women, and launching a new mentoring programme.

But it’s not just a lack of vision that is preventing women from entering the STEM arena; according to British Gas, 13 per cent of women questioned said they believed the industries to be ‘sexist’ and almost ten per cent felt that STEM careers are better suited to the opposite sex. According to most modern studies, more than half of girls believe that to pursue a STEM career they would have to work harder than males to be taken seriously.

Earlier this year, Isis Anchalee, an engineer from San Francisco, posted a blog in which she described what it’s like to be a woman in STEM. While her blog was suggestive that a gender gap does still exist, the success of the resulting Twitter hashtag, #ILookLikeAnEngineer, is testament to the burgeoning group of women forging successful careers in these stimulating industries.

STEM and education

One interesting observation in recent years is that girls and boys show equal interest in STEM subjects until middle schoo ; then girls' interest begins to fade. However, according to a 2014 survey of 20,000 sixth formers by Cambridge Occupational Analysts (COA), the number of female students considering university courses in STEM subjects has seen a bigger increase over the last seven years than for male students.

Joyce Lane, joint director of COA, commented:

“The survey shows that girls are beginning to respond positively to the message that they can perform as well as boys in STEM subjects and aim for rewarding careers in related professions, such as engineering.”

“We can only hope that firms will respond to this trend by ensuring there are attractive career opportunities for female, as well as male, STEM graduates.”

As headline sponsor of this year’s EEF Future Manufacturing Awards, Aldermore is a strong advocate of the UK STEM sector and realises that bridging the existing skills gaps may prove vital to its continued success.

With STEM businesses’ requirement for talent intensifying and women playing an increasingly active role in business, the groundwork is set for more women to enter the STEM arena. If the industries and firms within them can break the myth that such career paths are nothing more than heavy engineering, STEM companies will have a pipeline of forthcoming talent to choose from.

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