The gender gap in STEM careers
STEM subjects encompass stereotypically male-dominated careers: science, technology, engineering, and maths. History has always leaned in favour of men within these subjects, which could explain why the number of females in these industries is still low. These damaging stereotypes, as well as preconceptions of what these careers entail, have left industries such as manufacturing wholly unappealing — nearly three-quarters of women admitted to Women in Manufacturing (WiM) they would not consider a career in manufacturing.
How do we attract more women into these roles? In order to want to fill a job yourself, you must be able to envisage yourself in it first. For a woman looking at a male-dominated industry, it is difficult to do so. Therefore, to encourage more women companies need to recruit and retain more women — starting at the top.
For example, the FTSE 100 was able to report an increase in female-held directorships in 2018. Despite the number of female executive directorships remaining the same between 2017 and 2018, directorships rose from 294 to 305, a rise of 1.3%. However, out of these 100 companies those in the construction and building sector only featured twice.
The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineers across Europe. In fact, countries such as Cyprus having nearly three times as many women in similar roles. This article will focus on women’s relationship with the STEM and manufacturing industries and how to encourage female pupils into further studying STEM – laying the path for their careers.
Missing the potential
The first thing to look into is the sector’s existing employees. A 2016 survey found how manufacturing had the largest pool of untapped talent, simply because there were very few women in the roles previously. Not only is there an abundance of female staff available but they are also highly qualified, most possessing not only a bachelor’s but a supplementary master’s degree.
Despite these qualifications, more than half of women employed in this sector feel they are treated differently due to their gender. This moves away from stereotypes however and into a dangerous position of discrimination. Women being in these roles has proved to be beneficial not only in plugging the gender gap, but also for the company’s profitability themselves. Research suggests that every 10 per cent increase in gender diversity relates to a 3.5 per cent increase in gross profit.
Marci Bonham, Hilti’s Managing Director, believes that ‘supporting women as they take their first management steps within the industry will have a positive impact overall'.
This thought process links to shine theory. This theory carries significant relevance to women trying to crack the heavily dominated male industries. The workplace can be a hard place for anyone starting new, but for a woman starting off in a new role surrounded by mainly men — well the aforementioned stats speak for themselves. The shine theory looks at how much women can succeed if they befriended other females in the workplace, instead of battling against them. Effectively, this American concept emphasises how surrounding yourself with positive and successful women will create a positive atmosphere within.
Despite being nearly half of the entire workforce in the UK, a report by the Guardian showed that women only make up 14.4% of the STEM workforce. This is despite the fact they make up almost half of the overall workforce. The best way of encouraging girls into STEM careers is to establish more prominent idol like figures within these subject areas. Take for example Brian Cox, it is easier for young boys interested in getting into physics to relate to him. Alternatively, Donna Strickland as a physicist from Canada, became only the third woman ever to win the Nobel Prize award for her science. Her name, along with others who achieved spectacular heights, needs to be promoted throughout kids of a young age.
University isn’t for everyone. This has seen apprenticeships gain in popularity once again. The statistics for the sectors women are choosing to carry out apprenticeships in doesn’t bode well in supporting this plug of the gender gap. Subject areas including learning support, travel services, and beauty therapy, all had 80% or more female applicants. On the other hand, vehicle maintenance and repair, gas industry, and construction skills all had below 10%.
Here, we look at two companies who are pushing to increase their number of apprenticeships who are female:
Lookers Group, retailer of Ford Transit Connect, has its own female apprentice network. The scheme is based around setting up regular meetings between female apprentices, providing them with the opportunity to share their new-found knowledge and experiences.
British Gas is actively encouraging more women to enrol on its apprenticeship scheme. They similarly draw upon the fact, that by putting more women into male-dominated apprenticeships, the gender pay gap is likely to be bridged.