The Significance of Addressing the STEM Gender Gap

A guest blog authored by Mark Bradford at STEM Graduates

Approximately 75000 engineering students will graduate from UK universities during 2015, however around 15000 of this number are not eligible to work within the EU without Visa sponsorship. A further 5000 graduates will return home to their countries of permanent residence once they complete their degree.

In alarming contrast, the HEFC forecast that the UK’s engineering industry will require around 107000 engineering jobs to be filled every year until 2022.35418426_m

The concern surrounding whether the UK will be able to produce the technology talent to meet the demands of the ‘digital age’ is equally worrying, with an estimated skills gap of around 900000 workers by 2020 being quoted.

Consequently, employers looking to recruit engineering and technology graduates should be prepared to see a large proportion of their entry-level job vacancies to go unfilled as long as the STEM skills gap exists.

With WISE discovering that only 14.4% of the UK’s STEM workforce is made up of women, Engineering UK quoting a further 6:1 split Male: Female split within the Engineering workforce and HEFC’s statistics showing that only 13% of Computer Science/IT UK students are female, the significance of the disparity of female students studying STEM subjects is underlined.

This is especially the case when considering how an even gender split on engineering courses would require around 50000 more female students, a statistic that mirrors the yearly skills gap the engineering industry is currently struggling to overcome.

By improving on the 35:65 split between females and males on STEM courses by just 10%, a major plug would be put in the STEM gender gap. Though in order to do this it becomes just as crucial to ensure that the pipeline of female talent is in working order.

Our Women in STEM resources page is a great place to start if you’re a female who is interested in a STEM career or degree course. We’ve compiled and profiled a range of organisations, web logs, initiatives, articles and video content that’s aimed to help address the gender unbalance within STEM and the lack of visibility women have in these fields.

And the resources we have profiled are getting noticed.

Louisa Peacock, Shell UK’s boss, has recognised the engineering industry’s ‘girl problem’ and has subsequently pledged the organisation’s commitment to addressing girls from a young age, with the intention of exhibiting how their industry is transforming into a more inclusive career option. It’s integral however to put across this type of message in the right manner if disengaging students and younger pupils is to be avoided.

For instance, in our LinkedIn group we have touched upon how public discussions aimed at encouraging more girls into STEM need to be more engaging. Grace, who studied Mechanical Engineering at Cambridge, cited how she found a BBC radio panel show on the subject disappointing, with the women interviewed talking about “digging holes” for infrastructure projects. Whilst this might be an interesting career path with more to it, it isn’t particularly arresting. Are the likes of Google Glass designers, Microsoft Research specialists and R&D Engineers visible enough? Grace herself took a university placement at Cadbury’s and found it fascinating.

Concerns such as these have been reflected in an IPPR study that found how girls tend to opt out of STEM-based subjects before they make their A-Level choices, exemplifying how it is significant to exhibit engaging, relatable and interesting examples of women in STEM to younger students.

For example, instead of presenting a senior female director of an engineering organisation to GCSE pupils, why not have female STEM undergraduates express the most interesting and challenging aspects of their degree course or the exciting university placements they’ve undertaken?

Instead of introducing a sense of pressure surrounding the message that more females need to get into STEM, why not create a culture of encouragement?

Taking this approach is crucial if we’re to curb the general skills gap in UK STEM industries, as doing this will depend on nurturing female talent.


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