What can we do to plug the STEM gender gap?
Manual labour, long working hours and rows of assembly lines — this is the impression that sticks on most people from outside the STEM industry. So much so, a survey carried out by Women in Manufacturing (WiM) found that almost three quarters of women would not consider a career in manufacturing as a viable option.
This highlights that for centuries a stereotype has existed around the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) industries. This is perhaps the main reason why the number of women in the industry is still at such a low level. Tragically, despite the stereotype now being incredibly out dated, its presence still lingers.
But just what will attract women to coming to such jobs? 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 virtually impossible for them to do so. Therefore, to encourage more women, companies need to have more women — starting at the top.
In 2018, the FTSE 100 was able to report an increase in female held directorships. 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%. Out of these 100 companies, those in the construction and building sector only featured twice.
The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineer professionals in Europe, with countries such as Cyprus having nearly three times as many women in similar roles. Here’s a closer look into women’s relationship with the STEM and manufacturing industries.
The untapped STEM industry
The first point worth considering when assessing why more women are moving into the industry is how much on an untapped one it is.
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, they are also highly qualified, most possessing not only a bachelor’s but a supplementary master’s degree.
It has been reported that 51 per cent of women who are employed within this area have commented on how they have been treated worse, simply 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 suggest that every 10 per cent increase in gender diversity relates to a 3.5 percent increase in gross profit.
Managing director of Hilti, Marci Bonham proposes, ‘that supporting women as they take their first management steps within the industry will have a positive impact overall.’
The Shine Theory
This is where Shine Theory comes into play and it carries significant relevance to women trying to crack the heavily dominated male industries. The shine theory focuses on how much women can succeed if they were to befriend other females in the work place, as opposed to battling against them. Effectively, this American concept emphasises how surrounding yourself with positive and successful women will create a positive atmosphere within.
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.
A Guardian study from 2018 found that women constitute only 14.4% of all people working in STEM in the UK, despite the fact they make-up almost half of the work force. The best way of encouraging this, 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 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.
This is not to detract from the unimaginable advancements which have been made. In 1918 women over earned the right to vote, while women being accredited for such contributions to science as Donna Strickland, is certainly a recent development.
The traditional degree route isn’t for everyone and apprenticeships are gaining 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%.
Two companies who are pushing to increase their number of female apprenticeships are Lookers and British Gas:
One of Centrica’s Top 100 employers, the national motor retailer, who provide the Ford Transit Custom launched its female apprentice network last year. 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.
The energy provider has placed emphasis on getting women to apply for their apprenticeship scheme by offering examples of applicants with examples of some of their highest achieving female members of staff. They similarly draw upon the fact, that by putting more women into male dominated apprenticeships, the gender pay gap is likely to be bridged.