Empowering Women in STEM

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It’s well known that STEM industries (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) area male dominated sector. The number of women in this industry is largely uneven in comparison to men — figures show that in 2017, only 23 per cent of the workforce were women. Yes, this is low, and it’s 105,470 higher than statistics in 2016.

However, maybe opinions about women in STEM are changing. This year has seen some of the biggest names and influential figures in the industry being women, such as Kate Bouman, the woman who engineered the first image of a black hole. In this article, we track how more women have entered STEM than any other field in the past four decades.

Research done by LinkedIn recorded that STEM saw more women enter the sector over the last 40 years than all others. Philanthropist and former general manager at Microsoft, Melinda Gates, said: “Innovation happens when we approach urgent challenges from every different point of view. Bringing women and underrepresented minorities into the field guarantees that we see the full range of solutions to the real problems that people face in the world”.

Fitness technology firm, Fitbit, came under criticism in 2018 for their period tracker having a 10-day cycle. If more women were involved in the creation, they would’ve realised this was three days too long. In the States, the tech industry is one of the highest paying fields — yet women are still paid less than their male counterparts.

The Effects of Bias

As annoying as they can be, we all have biases. They’ve become a natural part of the way we think, especially when we’ve been raised with the idea that men are better suited for certain jobs than women. Charles Darwin described women as intellectual inferiors and universities rejected women up until the 20th century.

Laura Segal, senior vice president for the American Association of University Women, said: “Teachers and parents provide explicit and implicit messages starting in early childhood that boys and men are ‘better’ at math, and the gaps in the professions reinforce the opportunities, culture and lack of role models that perpetuate male dominance”.

Steps have been taken to fix this gender disparity, with an increase in school and university initiatives to encourage women in STEM. Previously, female students reported avoiding STEM courses because of a lack of female role models to identify with. If girls were taught about female role models like Marie Curie, for example, who discovered the effects of radiation, perhaps they’d be more inclined to pursue a career in the field.

To tackle this pressing issue, more women have been included in the curriculum by exam boards. Rosalind Franklin, a woman central to the understanding of DNA, has been taught across the nation. This has been linked to this year’s A-level results, which saw female students studying STEM courses (50.3%) outnumber male students (49.7%).

Helpful Funding

Actions by philanthropists have been beneficial towards helping encourage women in STEM. $25 million has been funded to boost girls’ interest by changing the narrative that they’re masculine careers. It’s expected to inspire other girls to follow other successful women. Lyda Hill Philanthropies have introduced 125 female ambassadors to represent the different STEM-related careers. Part of the donation will be used to fund grants for women to study STEM courses.

There have been reports of women taking leave from working environments dominated by men due to a toxic masculine culture. They noted that they had to work twice as hard to be taken seriously and to earn respect.

Women in STEM Apprenticeships

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers put together a report which concluded that there is a serious shortage of skilled STEM workers in the UK, which is costing around £1.5billion a year. Apprenticeships have an equal gender balance, yet only nine per cent of STEM apprentices are women.

The government is trying to fix this disparity by helping women become more informed about apprenticeships to help them access STEM-related careers.

Lookers, who offer a range of motability cars, launched a female apprenticeship scheme back in 2018. The aim is to double the amount of their female apprenticeships and provide a positive environment to encourage and attract women to STEM.

There is definitely a lot more that can be done to help encourage women in STEM, however it’s positive to hear such contributions already.

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