March is Women’s History Month. It is a time to celebrate the achievements of women in history and contemporary society. And also to reflect on what change needs to be made for gender equality.
This week, we focus on a sector that still has a significant gender imbalance and still sees far fewer women progressing to the highest-earning positions: STEM. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. It is a hugely popular industry and collection of subjects to work in and study.
Despite encompassing many of the UK’s essential industries, including energy and materials, healthcare, technology and finance, STEM is one of the most made dominated fields in the UK. This left us asking ourselves, what is it like to be a female student or graduate in STEM?
Students and Graduates: The Facts
According to a recent UCAS study, the gender disparity in STEM is visible even in undergraduate study. In 2018, only 35% of all STEM students were female. And in some STEM subjects such as Engineering and Technology and Computer Sciences that percentage is as low as 19%.
For graduates, the figures reveal that not only are fewer women are beginning degrees in STEM subjects, but even fewer are completing them. In 2019 only 26% of STEM graduates were women. Despite the belief that STEM is slowly becoming more equal, figures show that the female STEM graduate percentage for 2019 is only 1% higher than the figures for 2015. Proving little sign of progress for female graduates.
These shocking university statistics are simply a representation of the broader problem of gender inequality in the STEM workforce. In 2019, only 24% of the STEM workforce were women.
Why is there a gender gap?
Many people believe the reasons for the gender gap in STEM reach as far back as primary school age, where girls are already being told they are certain things they can and can’t do. Even if we do not realise we are doing it, we subconsciously associate boys and men with many of the skills and attributes found in STEM subjects such as rationality, strength, analysis and logic. In comparison, we associate girls with care, empathy and sensitivity.
These stereotypes can be extremely damaging and leave many young people, boys and girls, feeling limited and not good enough for specific subjects.
Another reason for the gender gap in STEM is that the fewer women in the STEM workforce, the less want to join it. The lack of women means it can be a very masculine environment that many women don’t want to work in. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Support for women in STEM
We hope that this article proves the need for action in STEM industries. Only those who can employ more women and provide more opportunities can help make it a more equal and inclusive sector.
For the women who do make up the minority percentages given above, it can be a considerable challenge. Here are some places you can turn for support:
STEM Women: A company dedicated to getting more women, especially graduates, into STEM. They have resources, jobs and events.
WISE: Women in STEM Networks: This is a directory of all the Women in STEM networks across the UK. You can find support in your area or if you are also a mum or student support groups.
Aspiring to Include: Our sister website, Aspiring to Include, has a dedicated section for Women in the workplace. It has a variety of information guides, including support for Women in STEM.
If you are interested in an undergraduate STEM degree, visit our guide to choosing a degree.