Women in STEM: Empowerment in Employment

STEM, (which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), involves industries in which men are stereotypically linked. Compared to men, the ratio for women in STEM industries is considerably low. Taking a look at some statistics from 2017 which show only 23 per cent of the STEM workforce. While this is low, it is 105,470 higher than what it was back in 2016.

STEM-related careers, however, are changing, with more women taking on the roles. 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.

Business platform LinkedIn announced that more women entered the STEM industry 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”.

In the States, the tech industry is one of the highest paying fields — yet women are still paid less than their male counterparts. And that’s not the only example of the technology industry being out of touch with women. Activity tracking company Fitbit was criticised for one of their most important apps. The period tracker had a 10-day cycle and if more women helped with developing this feature, they would’ve known that was three days too long.

Breaking Down Bias for Women

We’re breaking down biases. Biases are natural to us and how we think. For example, women have been raised to think that men are better suited for jobs like STEM compared to them. Charles Darwin described women as intellectual inferiors and universities rejected women up until the 20th century.

The senior vice president for the American Association of University Women, Laura Segal, 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”.

With help from schools, universities and recruitment agencies in the UK, since 2012, there has been various programs 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.

Rosalind Franklin, a woman central to the understanding of DNA, has been one of the well-known women that has been taught in schools across the UK. This has helped to combat bias by certain exam boards by adding more famous women, like Franklin, into exam content. 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%).

Funding for Women In STEM

There are many philanthropists that are eager to sort out the gender gap that still happens in STEM industries. They 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 has been said that some women that have left male-controlled work environment like engineering due to a toxic male culture. They noted that they had to work twice as hard to be taken seriously and to earn respect.

125 female ambassadors, from Lyda Hill Philanthropies, have been introduced to represent the different STEM-related careers. Part of the donation will be used to fund grants for women to study STEM courses.

STEM Apprenticeships for Women

Research by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers found that a lack of skilled workers in the STEM industry in the UK is costing the nation £1.5 billion per year. Apprenticeships have an equal gender balance, yet only nine per cent of STEM apprentices are women.

The government is stepping forward to help fix this disappointing statistic by helping women become more aware about apprenticeships to help them join more STEM-related careers.

In 2018, Lookers, who offer used cars for sale, created a female apprenticeship scheme, to help double the amount of female apprenticeships and provide a positive environment to encourage and attract women to STEM.

It is good to see that positive steps are being taken forward, such as having STEM advertisements use more gender-neutral language. However, there is a lot of progress to be made for women in STEM.