It is estimated that only 25% of the STEM sector are women. Not only is this a waste of talent and opportunity but it jeopardises Scotland’s chances to be at the forefront of innovation. We need a thriving STEM sector in Scotland to be globally competitive and relevant. To do this we need that sector to be diverse. Scotland needs 120,000 more people with engineering and technical skills by 2020; whilst under-using half of the population – how will we reach that target?
The jobs of the future are in STEM; it could be researching the next drug to combat cancer, designing the most durable and flexible prosthetics to allow someone to walk again, erecting the next Olympic stadium, creating interactive virtual reality or discovering the next solution in renewable energy.
The possibilities in the industry are limitless, but for women the opportunities are limited.
The “leaky pipeline” starts when we are young…
Despite boys and girls having an equal interest in science and technology, by the time girls enter their teen years their interest dramatically falls (regardless of the academic capability in science). Boys are more likely to pursue subjects such as physics, chemistry, engineering and computing. From the age of 15 young women have potentially limited their chances of working in STEM. This is because they are often stereotyped into making certain choices. For the few girls who do pursue subjects such as physics or chemistry it can be an isolating experience when they are potentially the only girl in the classroom, and it runs the risk of putting them off continuing with that subject. We need girls and boys to see subjects as being “non gendered” and feel able to pursue what interests and excites them.
And it stays with us as we grow…
From the women who make it past the first few leaks in the pipeline, move onto university and qualify in STEM subjects only 27% of them are likely to remain in the industry. This is a significant brain drain for Scotland.
From that 27%, a handful will make it to senior roles. Many of them will feel that their accomplishments are being overlooked, and many will report stress at balancing careers and caring responsibilities in an inflexible work environment.
However, change is on its way. STEM employers are not only aware of the issues but enthusiastic in identifying solutions. A number of initiatives such as women’s networks, placement programmes and mentoring schemes have been created through the help of Equate Scotland, and the issue of women in STEM has never been a higher political or economic priority.
Equate Scotland know that by working with women, with academia and with the STEM industry, we can create a sector which is inclusive and attractive to women.