This article tracks how more women have entered STEM more than any other field in the past four decades
It’s no secret that science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are industries primarily dominated by men. The ratio of women earning jobs in these fields are extremely low compared to men. Statistics from 2017 show that women made up only 23% of the STEM workforce. Although this is low, this is 105,470 higher than the number in 2016.
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.
Data analysis by LinkedIn reported that STEM 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”.
In 2018, 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.
Breaking through bias
Biases. Unfortunately, we all have them. 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”.
Since 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 combat this 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%).
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.
Many women have been reported leaving male-dominant 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.
According to a report by 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.
Lookers 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.
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.
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