6 July 2022

We need more women in STEM. But how can we make that happen?

STEM employers need to build relationships with schools and promote equality in the workplace if they want to bring in female talent, says Ciphr’s Claire Williams

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Claire Williams

Claire Williams

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Future of Work Skills

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STEM employers need to build relationships with schools and promote equality in the workplace if they want to bring in female talent, says Ciphr’s Claire Williams

Today, women make up less than 30% of the world’s researchers, and one-in-six tech specialists in the UK. Employers know the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) industry is in clear need of more female representation – but enough still isn’t being done. If employers want to increase innovation, close the tech skills gap, and create an inclusive workplace, they must focus on ways to increase female representation in STEM. So, what are the most effective ways to achieve this?

I believe the answer lies in educating young girls about the world of STEM and creating a fair and equal workplace.

Start with education

Global female enrolment is currently just 3% for students joining information and communication technology (ICT) courses, 5% for mathematics and statistics courses, and 8% for engineering, manufacturing, and construction courses. Through education, we can change the number of women pursuing a career in STEM, but the responsibility of providing this education does not solely have to rely on schools.

When speaking to Women in Tech, Dave Gibbs, STEM computing and technology specialist, said: “We need to start now to inspire young women to study computing and technology throughout their school careers, and then go on to apprenticeships and degrees in these subjects. We need to challenge young women to think about going into a career in tech – with all the rewards this could bring them.”

By establishing close ties with local schools and colleges, employers could be able to hold workshops or career days in schools and offer work experience opportunities to young students. This would give young girls the chance to see first-hand how exciting a career in STEM can be, to ask existing employees questions about their job (which they might not ask a teacher), and discover the skills needed to pursue a STEM career. If we bear in mind the old adage ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’, creating opportunities for girls to connect with female STEM professionals could really inspire them to pursue a career in technology.

Taking action to create an equal workplace

When women choose to rise to the challenge and pursue a STEM career, they could, however, face unequal pay and restricted career progression. As a result, employers must focus on creating a fair and equal workplace that women want to be a part of, and where they have opportunities to excel.

Pay is one factor in creating that welcoming environment. The gender pay gap for engineering roles in the UK is currently 11.4%, but supporting more women into the industry – and to take on senior roles – will help close this gap in the long term.

Along with better pay, STEM employers also need to ensure women have opportunities for career progression. When looking at figures surrounding women in tech, fewer than one-in-ten of these women are in leadership positions. Succession planning can give you the chance to identify women who are suitable for senior roles and put them on the right path to achieving these positions. Mentoring and sponsorship programmes can be really valuable here in helping women move beyond their comfort zones and achieve their full potential.

A fair and equal workplace can also be achieved through providing flexible working hours. In a survey by Ivanty’s Women in Tech, over 50% of women said they are attracted to companies with policies that allow flexible or part-time working. These types of working arrangements can help encourage more women to apply for jobs in STEM – or return to work in the case of working mothers – and work their way to their top, closing the gender pay gap as a result.

To create a fair and equal workplace, employers have to create an open and safe culture where women are able to thrive and communicate the barriers that are in the way of their progression – whether it be pay or a poor relationship with hiring or line managers. Women need to be able to comfortably raise these points and be reassured that their employer will act on their behalf.

There’s undoubtedly a lot of work to do before we reach male-female parity in STEM roles. But employers who are committed to helping women progress – as part of their wide diversity and inclusion activities – will reap the benefits in terms of greater creativity, innovation, and collaboration, and representation of the customers they serve.