Paving the way for women in STEM

This week we celebrate science and all the incredible achievements that mankind have made to shape the world as we know it. And without too much thought, you could probably name at least 5 different men that helped shape the world – Einstein, Newton, Edison, Galileo, Leonardo Di Vinci. In fact you can probably name 5 more men from this century that have paved the way for STEM – Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerburg , Steven Hawking, Neil Armstrong, Bill Gates.

But what about women? How many women in STEM can you name?

It is weeks like these that remind us of the under-representation of females in the STEM industry and the issue of gender segregation within the workforce. Studies have found that despite the progress feminism has made towards gender equality, women still only make up 27% of the STEM workforce.

So why is this the case?

Women are equally capable of being mathematicians or engineers or doctors as their male counterparts, there are numerous talented role models that we can attest to that. Instead, the issue relates to the numerous barriers women must face when entering or once in the workforce.

The 2018 Women in STEM survey Report found that:

  • 68% of women said that taking maternity leave was detrimental to their career
  • 51% reported that they have been directly discriminated against on the basis of gender during the course of their employment
  • 35% said they did not believe the employer had strategies in place to actually implement policies relating to diversity and discrimination.

And while these issues are of paramount importance, the barriers that women face actually start from a much earlier age. One of the most prominent ones being that young women experience a lower self-efficacy than young men in the fields of mathematics and science. This ‘confidence gap’ shifts the way that women view themselves and their abilities to set goals, overcome difficulties and ultimately succeed within the industry. With few female role models in the public eye to and no clear path provided as to how to get there, young women become unmotivated and are less likely to pursue these interests. 

What can we do about it?
  1. We need to improve the education surrounding women in STEM. Encouraging more girls to take STEM subjects at school from a young age and showcasing the incredible talent of those that are already in the field. Let’s use the history of women in STEM to inspire a new generation of STEM leaders.

  2. Workplaces need to start planning for this future. The overarching complaint with women that are already working in STEM fields is that they face issues associated with the male dominated workplace culture. Companies need to implement strategies that not only attract women but showcase their ability to create a diverse and inclusive culture. Are you offering flexible hours? Can your employee work from home?

  3. Let’s focus on retaining the women we have. While increasing the representation of females in STEM jobs is important, it is counterproductive if those women then find themselves constantly hitting a glass ceiling. By focusing on workplace planning, companies can implement diversity targets and strategies that actively encourage women to seek promotions. Studies have shown the positive effects of sponsorship programs, with 61% of people saying mentoring would assist them in progressing their career in the next 5 years. If we place emphasis on developing and progressing talented women into more senior roles, we will not only improve retention rates and employee morale but we can create a generation of leaders that will be able to go on and inspire the next.

Is your workplace struggling to attract women? A Human Agency can help you implement strategies to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture. Get in touch!

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