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The Rising Opportunities for Women in STEM | Milton Park

Published on: 29/06/2018

The Rising Opportunities for Women in STEM

A current hot topic in the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is the lack of female representation within industries needing STEM trained professionals.

The issue is deep seated, requiring encouragement of women from a young age, as few women pursue STEM subjects at A-Level, meaning that routes to STEM-related careers for women can be blocked from a young age.

Plenty of studies have revealed large gaps in gender representation in STEM industries in the UK. Only one in six IT professionals are women and one in ten senior IT professionals are women. Similar statistics are represented in engineering, where only 11% of the engineering workforce is female.

Balancing the representation of women in STEM industries is important for the industries themselves, as research and product development is relevant to a wide range of users and customers. The STEM workforce needs to reflect the needs and requirements of the customers STEM researches and develops for.

‘STEM: A Man’s World?’

STEM is often represented as a traditionally masculine field, even from a young age. This can impact choices made early in education, where a division is often made between a STEM path or a path which leans towards the arts and humanities in terms of traditional subjects.

As demand for those in STEM fields grow, more has been done to encourage women to seek a STEM based education and even move laterally into a career in STEM later in life.

STEM jobs are growing rapidly as more money and resources are invested into research and development, particularly in computer science and engineering as technology pushes further into the realms of the future with revolutions in AI, machine learning and automation. These also apply to huge fields such as medicine and energy, working to make the world a better and more efficient place.

A study by EDF Energy claims that 640,000 STEM jobs will be created in the UK by 2023, which is a huge amount of growth in a short amount of time.

The Importance of Mentorships

One of the biggest hurdles women tend to face is a lack of confidence – sometimes it can be hard for women to have their voice heard when they are the minority in a field which is traditionally viewed as masculine. One of the best approaches to gain and build confidence is to pair women with more experienced women (or men) higher up for mentorship.

Advice and guidance can help instil confidence in young women at the start of the career.

Larger companies already have mentorship programmes, but smaller or more niche companies can also have schemes, or visiting mentors from external companies, who can provide impartial advice.

We can also think differently about different ways to provide mentorship – such as long-distance mentorship via Skype or email, or mentorship from women in different roles or departments.

How Returner Programmes Help Women in STEM

Returner programmes help women who are returning to work after an extended break from their career, usually due to having children.

Women returning to STEM fields can lack confidence or feel like they have missed too much in the years they have been away. In a fast-moving world like tech, tools and processes can change very quickly. Short term mentorships and ‘returner programmes’ can keep women returning from a break from their existing career, up to date.

Shared maternity and paternity leave and even shared grandparental leave should help change the landscape in STEM and the unconscious bias against women who take breaks in their careers.

Changing the perception of STEM careers

Another issue is how STEM working environments are perceived. This includes the perception that IT environments are based in isolated cubicles, or that engineering is all about fixing and mending, rather than finding solutions to large issues.

Other perceptions include STEM industries as super-competitive environments, rather than collaborative and creative. The industry is now working hard to reverse this view and appeal to younger women to train and study towards rewarding STEM careers.

Organisations and further reading:

STEM Women: Events run for women in STEM

The WISE Campaign - enables and energises people in business, industry and education to increase the participation, contribution and success of women in STEM

Women’s Engineering Society

CodeFirst:Girls - works with companies and with men and women directly, to help increase the number of women in tech

STEMettes - An organisation running panel events, hackathons and exhibitions aimed at inspiring the next generation of women into STEM.

Women in Technology – Women in Tech is a site dedicated to women already in or looking to join the tech sector. The site will provide you with career advice, case studies, jobs and a list of employers hiring women in tech.

BCSWomen - an active and lively specialist group that provides networking opportunities and support for all women working in IT around the world
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