Women have been making waves in STEM industries for decades, yet only 26% of the sector comprises women. The figure is even more glaring with the knowledge that 92% of science, engineering, technology, and maths (STEM) professors are men in the UK. The lack of representation for women in this industry is a huge problem, and change is long overdue. In celebration of Women and Girls in Science Day, this blog will be exploring why women are so underrepresented in STEM industries and some potential solutions to this problem.
Why are Women in STEM Underrepresented?
There are several reasons why women are underrepresented in STEM industries. The first is that there is still a gender pay gap for people working in the industry, with men getting paid more than women on average. A woman working full-time will earn around 18% less than their male counterpart would if they were doing the same job, discouraging women from delving into the industry. Income inequality sends the message that women’s time is not valued, and therefore, women look to alternative careers where they feel valued for their work. This is one of the fundamental issues preventing equal representation in STEM.
Lack of Role Models
Another reason is the lack of female role models in the industry. A study conducted by Microsoft found that when girls are shown images of women working in computer science careers, their interest in the subject increases by 34%. However, when they were shown pictures of men in these same roles, there was no change in their level of interest. This shows that it is important for women to be represented in all aspects of STEM careers so that girls who may have an interest in STEM can see themselves reflected within the industry.
The Power of Stereotypes
While things are changing for the better, many children in the UK are still brought up with gendered perceptions that women are only suited to caregiving roles and men are best suited to information/STEM-based career paths. This is outdated, but it still has a massive effect on girls who believe they are not clever enough to pursue science, technology, engineering, or maths careers. As previously mentioned, a lack of female role models only reiterates the notion that STEM is male-dominated and women are unwelcome. Therefore, there is an assumption that women pursuing STEM careers in the future will have a knock-on effect and inspire even more women and girls to pursue STEM careers too!
Why Do We Need More Women in STEM?
When given the opportunity, women in STEM have made ground-breaking discoveries. Here are just a few of the major accomplishments that women have made in STEM industries:
- Ada Lovelace invented the first-ever computer algorithm. In 1844, she wrote an article describing how a machine could follow instructions and perform complex calculations, which is still relevant in today’s computers.
- Rosalind Franklin was responsible for discovering the structure of DNA. She used X-ray photography to discover its helical shape, which was later used by James Watson and Francis Crick to develop the ‘double helix’ model.
- Katie Bouman captured the first-ever image of a black hole in 2019, a discovery that no one thought would be possible. Bouman achieved this by developing an algorithm that could stitch together data from eight telescopes worldwide!
- Marie Curie was the first-ever woman to win a Nobel Prize, and she won it twice! She was a physicist and chemist who pioneered research on radioactivity.
- Katherine Johnson, along with Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, was an African American mathematician who worked for NASA during the Space Race. She calculated trajectories for John Glenn’s historic orbit around Earth and helped send humans to the moon!
These are only a few examples of the amazing women making a difference in STEM. With more women in the industry, we can only expect more ground-breaking discoveries and innovations to come!
How Can We Increase the Representation of Women in STEM?
Equal access for children: Organisations such as STEM Learning, which specialise in free resources for educators to teach science, technology, and maths subjects, are making a difference by providing high-quality teaching materials. They aim to ensure that every child leaves school with the knowledge to pursue further education or employment in these subjects. They also offer training courses that help educators keep updated with the latest STEM developments.
Government funding: The government has also pledged £500 million to increase the number of women in work, including those in STEM industries. This money will be put towards schemes such as ‘returnships’ which help mothers (and fathers) return to their careers after taking a break to raise children.
Raising awareness: Many organisations promote women in STEM and celebrate their achievements. For example, Ada Lovelace Day recognises the accomplishments of women working in science, technology, engineering, and maths and encourages girls to study these subjects at school. There is of course, also the Women and Girls in Science Day, which is celebrated annually!
Social media: More recently, a group of undergraduate students from the UK set up a social media campaign called ‘This is What a Scientist Looks Like’. The campaign aims to show that scientists come from all walks of life, and they are not just white, middle-aged men!
These solutions will boost the representation of women in STEM, with a positive impact on both employees and the industry. We must take steps to improve the work environment, fostering a productive, innovative environment.
In conclusion, there are many reasons why women need better representation in STEM industries. When given the opportunity, women thrive in these industries, making accomplishments that have changed the course of history. We are celebrating Women and Girls in Science Day today, and we hope you are too! For more information on women in STEM careers, take a look at Aspiring to Include. Alternatively, take a look at our specialist jobs board to kickstart your career!