How can we get more women into STEM?
Women in Tech | Written by Gail Callicott | Date Posted 15 Oct 2019
Despite vast strides made towards gender equality in a number of industries, one field that severely lags behind others is STEM.
With science, technology, engineering and maths traditionally seen as male domains – women have historically been left out.
Aside from general diversity, enabling women to flourish in STEM is worth a lot economically. According to research undertaken by the McKinsey Global Institute, gender parity in the workplace could add up to $28 trillion (or 26 per cent) to the annual global GDP by 2025. While there has undoubtedly been promising signs, with the UK on target to employ one million women in STEM roles by 2020, there’s still a long way to go. So how can we get more women into STEM?
Where to start?
The key to boosting inclusion lies in early outreach. There’s a wealth of evidence available to suggest that attitudes about what constitutes men and women’s work and areas of study start from a very young age. As a result, by the time both genders are at university, let alone entering work, men dominate the field, with females making up only 24 per cent of graduates.
It makes good sense, that if we engage with females at the beginning of their education, we will be more successful when it comes to boosting diversity. There are many practical ways to do this. At Intelligent Resource, we’ve signed up to the Give an Hour initiative, where we will send mentors from our recruitment teams into schools and colleges, to offer interview practice, lead careers discussions on emerging technologies and help with CV writing.
Ultimately, this early outreach helps us address the myth that women are ‘just not interested’ in STEM, despite making strides in these industries for centuries. In fact, of the 10,000 people working at Bletchley Park, the home of the codebreakers during the Second World War, 75 per cent were women, with one of them, Jane Fawcett, responsible for decoding a message revealing the location of the key German battleship, Bismarck.
It’s a recruitment thing
It’s also important that the recruitment process is as free from bias as possible, as there are a number of areas in the hiring process where unfairness can rear its head. For instance, language. Job advertisements play an important role in attracting talent and can provide the first impression of company culture. In fact, research shows that masculine language, such as ‘competitive’ and ‘determined,’ can discourage female applications. On the other hand, words like ‘collaborative’ and ‘cooperative’ attract more women than men. Luckily, there are many software programs that can help highlight gendered terms and enable employers to strike the right balance to encourage more female applicants.
A blind process for reviewing applications can also help impartiality and ensure hiring managers are solely focused on qualifications and abilities. Blind hiring originated back in 1952 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. When they asked musicians to audition behind a screen, the orchestra began accepting more women into their ranks. A later research paper concluded that blind auditions increased the chance of a woman being accepted by an orchestra by as much as 50 per cent.
In addition to this, many women are kept out of STEM due to a lack of flexibility on the part of employers. With companies historically only catering for male dominated workforces, a lack of attention to details such as childcare can be prevalent.
In fact, a recent study surveyed women in the STEM industries about the barriers facing them. It found that more than half (52 per cent) of respondents said the cost of childcare was a barrier, while more than a quarter (27 per cent) said the lack of flexible working options was a problem.
Strength in numbers
Finally, by bringing organisations together and pooling resources, change can be achieved at a much faster rate. There are a huge number of schemes and initiatives that companies can collaborate with. For example, at Intelligent Resource, we have partnered with over 100 major organisations to support PwC’s ‘Tech She Can Charter’. This is a commitment which brings together organisations to boost the number of females taking up technology roles in the UK and tackle the factors behind the shortfall of women working in STEM.
Early action is key
Ultimately, the case for getting more women in STEM is clear. However, without coordinated action from school age onwards to create a sustainable pipeline of female talent, and a thorough analysis of the recruitment process, the UK could lose its competitive edge on the world stage. Waiting until women enter the workforce is simply too late. We need to work harder to raise awareness about the exciting and emerging range of available roles, in a sector that has the power to change the world.
This article was written by Sara Wright, Quality Assurance Manager at Intelligent Resource for WeAreTechWomen - https://wearetechwomen.com/how-can-we-get-more-women-into-stem/
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