Opening doors for women in STEM

To get more women into the higher paid, quality jobs in STEM we need to encourage more young women to take STEM subjects at university, argues Lucy Desai from Herriot-Watt University.

Chemist, Chemistry, STEM


According to 2019 figures from the UK Government, there are now just over a million women (1,019,400) in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workforce. This translates to an increase of more than 350,000 women (24%) entering these areas of work. While this may be encouraging to hear, there is still a long way to go for gender equality in these male-dominated industries.

2020’s target was hit. 2030’s target of 1.5 million women in STEM occupations would see 30% of this workforce filled by women. According to the Harvard University Institute of Politics, 30% is the ‘critical mass’ level where a minority group of women would have the ability to influence real change.

In a post-pandemic, post-Brexit world, women in STEM have become more important than ever. These two events have highlighted issues within these sectors which we will look at here.

Exasperated inequality

The Covid-19 pandemic affected the world in many different ways – one being unravelling the limited progress we had made towards gender equality over the last couple of decades.

While research has reported that men are more susceptible to severe effects of Covid-19, the financial and social toll is paid by more women. Women in insecure, informal, and lower-paid jobs experienced more loss of employment. Furthermore, Black, Asian and ethnic minority women were hit hardest by job cuts.

Working in STEM, you’re likely to have a high-paid job. There is a lot of growth in these jobs as well as high employment rates for graduates due to the technology revolution. Women are at a disadvantage by being underrepresented in some of the most lucrative and secure industries.

According to the UN’s report, Policy Brief: The Impact of Covid-19 on Women: “Across the globe, women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs, are more likely to be employed in the informal sector. They have less access to social protections and are the majority of single-parent households. Their capacity to absorb economic shocks is therefore less than that of men.”

Diverse perspectives

Melinda Gates, renowned philanthropist and former general manager at Microsoft, 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.”

The pandemic taught us that empathetic, reactive and agile leadership was essential to help curb the spread of the virus. Legislation brought in by female prime minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern helped stamp out the virus across the entire country in the initial stages of the pandemic. It has been reported that female leaders have handled the pandemic crisis well.

Now more than ever it is important to have a female point of view in the workplace, not just in politics and running countries, but in industries where women are underrepresented. Women can bring diverse and fresh perspectives to male-dominated fields, creating a better platform for innovation, creativity and decision-making.

Embracing and encouraging women in STEM

Glass ceilings can be one of the primary reasons why women shy away from degrees and occupations in STEM. Throughout their education, girls are systematically drawn away from science and maths courses, which discourages them from pursuing opportunities and training to enter these fields professionally.

We can encourage women to pursue STEM by:

1. Exposing girls to STEM material and introduce female role models in these industries at a young age
2. Encouraging participation in STEM programmes through funding and ambassadors
3. Breaking down stereotypes around male and female careers.

It’s important that we open doors for women into STEM to not only benefit the industry but to create better opportunities for both women and the world.

*This article was written by Lucy Desai from Herriot-Watt University in Scotland. If you are a young women or the parent of a young person whose daughter is interested in pursuing STEM courses at university even though they have already applied for another course, there are options to explore, from Clearing in Edinburgh to apprenticeships in Newcastle.

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