To mark International Women’s Day, Aradhana Mehra, Head of the Research Centre in the College of Life and Natural Sciences, explains the importance of encouraging women to pursue careers in science and technology (STEM).
The gender gap in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related careers is an ongoing issue. Women are highly underrepresented across these subjects, as statistics show women make up just 12.8% of the STEM workforce.
Although women generally fill a large proportion of all jobs, the percentage in STEM jobs is much lower. So, we have to ask ourselves why is this? What barriers do women face and what can we do about it to see a higher representation of women in STEM careers?
Why aren’t more women in STEM careers?
Factors that influence women underrepresentation in STEM jobs can be closely linked with societal and employer biases, which impact on a woman’s own perception. It is disappointing that in today’s modern society, sometimes women are made to feel that they are not as capable as men to carry out specific STEM roles. This can erode their confidence right from their early days.
In some cases, young women regard certain STEM subjects to be studied mainly by men. Moreover, studies have shown that women with similar qualifications and experience as men may not be appointed to a job where employers may prefer male candidates over females, and this, in turn, dissuades women to apply for such roles.
How do we overcome this barrier?
To overcome these barriers, we need to:
Improve awareness of STEM subjects from a young age
Schools must strive to create environments to promote STEM interest. This can be achieved by introducing female role models in STEM-related jobs to our younger women so they will be enthused and excited to take on leading roles in STEM areas.
Encourage young girls
Get girls participating in workshops and special events for STEM fields, as well introducing them to a range of women guest speakers in schools.
Gain support from local community
Gain support from locaAn interest in STEM subjects can be complemented by support from our local communities through provision of internships and summer jobs. Such opportunities may provide young women to find a mentor who is willing to take an interest in their long-term career goals and provide guidance in terms of pathways and processes to achieve great results.
Parents and guardians should be onboard
Parents and guardians play an important role in the development and confidence building of the young minds, their guidance and support right from the young age makes a big difference for girls to feel motivated and empowered to achieve great heights in their dream careers.
Roles of Further and Higher Education
Role of Further and Higher Education Learning and teaching at institutes of further and higher education should play a major role in the future development of women to achieve their goals in the STEM field. They should create environments that support women in STEM subject areas by introducing real-life applications in early STEM courses as well as provide support through clear criteria for success in the classroom and future workplace.
Research and share
The world we live in provides a digital and information-rich society which provides a range of information on STEM subjects for women, for example, the Association of Women in Science and Society for Women Engineers. Through such resources, women can get information on career opportunities and learn from other women in STEM professions.
Through these activities, any misperceptions of STEM subjects will be removed from a young age. Overall, we need to be clear that with a higher input of women in STEM areas and by reducing the gender gap, we provide diversity in the workforce which contributes to an enhanced creativity, productivity, and innovation in our everyday lives.
The University of Derby is holding a Women in STEM event on Wednesday 8 March – an evening to celebrate women in STEM careers.