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Tackling the shortage of women in STEM

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens)

As it stands, just 24 per cent of roles within Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers are held by women. According to a report by Engineering UK, the UK has the lowest number of female engineers of any country in Europe.

This lack of representation of women in STEM is a longstanding issue. The number of women in technology make up just 17 per cent of all those in the UK tech industry and according to the National Centre for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), women hold only 25 per cent of computing roles within UK companies.

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How can businesses support women in STEM?

Enabling women to flourish in the UK workforce is worth a lot financially. According to research undertaken by the McKinsey Global Institute, gender parity in the workplace could add up to $28 trillion (26 per cent) to the annual GDP BY 2025.

There has been a huge increase in initiatives to tackle the gap and positively affect the number of women choosing a career in STEM, especially within the last 5 years. Whilst these initiatives are undeniably having a positive effect, especially in awareness, they haven’t yet had the required impact to readdress the diversity balance.

Benefits tailored to appeal to women

Employers also need to showcase that they operate a female-friendly environment, and provide reassurance that they adhere to a strong equal opportunities policy that clearly lays out how they are supporting work-life balance and equal pay

  • Flexible hours

Maintaining a work-life balance can be tricky. Women often juggle family responsibilities whilst looking to progress within their career. Many women in male-dominated industries find themselves taking a voluntary pay cut, to have time to spend at home. A working environment that is flexible to the needs of working parents will appeal to more women and encourage them to stay and progress in their career rather than to choose between work or family.

  • Higher salaries

In the same way women feel they must reduce their hours to spend time at home, they also take considerable pay cuts in to maintain a balanced life. Women in Technology found that an alarming 25 per cent of women in STEM want to negotiate a higher salary for their role, but feel they are stereotyped as willing to settle for less money than a man in their same position. Ensuring women can work flexible hours without being forced to take a pay cut is the key to businesses gaining and retaining a key part of the workforce.

  • Opportunities for promotion

Empowering women by offering promotion when it is warranted helps businesses to stand out as drivers toward STEM equality. Many women in the industry feel as though they need to change employers to progress in their careers, whilst research found that 40 per cent of women in the industry have experienced being rejected for promotions that have been given to a less-qualified male.

Encouragement from the beginning

Encouraging girls into STEM at an early age, at home and at school, is key to addressing the gender stereotypes that still exist. Currently, only 7 per cent of students in the UK taking computer science at A-Level are female, and just half of all those studying IT and Technology subjects at school will go into a job of the same field, according to Women in Technology. 

Positive female role models are vital, so companies and organisations should ask their successful female employees to visit local schools to meet with students and share their experiences. By sharing their personal experiences and successes, these female employees can inspire and encourage the students to follow their lead

Businesses can also offer work experience placements or internship programmes, specifically targeted at young girls who are interested in STEM, but who are perhaps unsure about exactly what a career in this field entails.  Park Place Technologies recently sponsored an initiative in Ireland aimed at female college students studying STEM related subjects, who wanted to gain experience in the industry. The two selected candidates have been given the opportunity to fly to our US headquarters for a 10-day internship programme, where they will receive hands-on industry experience as well as the opportunity to network with the senior executive team and go through a leadership training program  Internship programmes are invaluable both for an organisation and students.  For the students it gives them first-hand experience of the type of work involved with that industry, and for the organisation, it can be used as a recruitment process to identify future talent who could one day join the business once they have completed their studies.

Prior to this a Park Place STEM committee was established in Q4 2018, consisting of a diverse group of women at Park Place, many of whom had no formal training in STEM.

Women on the board of directors

Organisations need to honestly ask themselves how many women hold leadership positions within the company or will have the opportunity to do so in the future? If the answer to this is very few, then you risk losing the already limited number of talented women in your organisation to a more inclusive competitor.  Here at Park Place, there are several high-ranking women who contribute to the leadership of the company.

There is undoubtedly an appetite and acute awareness within the industry about the need to encourage more women into STEM.  The media attention and various initiatives to support STEM diversity are helping to improve the situation, but this won’t happen without widespread industry engagement.  There is clearly more work to do in changing outdated perceptions and unconscious bias and this is where employers can make a real difference -- by showcasing the opportunities available to women in STEM and ensuring access to the same opportunities for all. Employers have an obligation to immerse themselves in these initiatives, and where appropriate drive them to ensure that we are creating a STEM industry that is innovative, creative, progressive and diverse for future generations.

Jennifer Deutsch, CMO, Park Place Technologies