Why it’s time for STEM to become less of a man’s world

Social entrepreneur, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon, MBE reveals what it’s like to be a woman in STEM, why there’s a gender gap and how we can all help to close it.

Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths – aka STEM – is still socially perceived as a man’s world. In 2013, only 13% of the UK’s STEM workforce were women and, since then, this has risen by a meagre 8%.

So, why does the UK have this huge gender gap? Whether it’s social, cultural or biological, the answer can’t be pinned down to a single factor. But, one thing’s for sure, from the home, through the classroom, to the workplace, more needs to be done to solve the perception problem with STEM.

Despite the damning statistics, STEM isn’t a gender specific industry. Science isn’t just a load of genius men saving the world. Engineering doesn’t just feature men standing around wearing hard hats. And, women shouldn’t be viewed as ‘out of the ordinary’ for considering an education or career in any of these fields; by pursuing them, they have the potential to make a difference, not just to STEM, but to the world.

One woman making her voice heard is Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon, MBE. Five years ago, after experiencing STEM’s gender imbalance first-hand, she decided to take action and founded Stemettes – the now award-winning social enterprise. Its mission is to inspire the next generation of females into STEM via a series of panel events, hackathons, exhibitions and mentoring schemes. In this video, she reveals the truth of what it’s like to be a woman in STEM.

 

 

Many young women may have an unknown passion for STEM. For it to be exposed and acted upon, all they need is a word of encouragement to try new things and take on new challenges.

Here are the three people who play a key role at different stages of a woman’s life and, who could play an even bigger one in changing the gender imbalance of STEM.

Inspiration starts with mum and dad…

In the first few years of our lives, our parents teach us everything we need to know about the world, so, when it comes to an awareness of STEM, it makes sense that they should be the first influencing figures in a child’s life. A gesture as simple as using a toy to develop a new skill could have a considerable effect on how children view their surroundings and their part in it. “Consider whether giving them that Barbie is going to be as inspiring as giving them a Lego kit that allows them to explore that STEM side,” says Anne-Marie.

Worryingly, many young girls have already accepted the stereotype that Science and Maths are for boys; a report from last year noted that children as young as six believe boys are ‘smarter’ than girls. To avoid these perceptions and comparisons, it’s never been more important for parents to educate, support and inspire their children from the get-go.

It continues with teachers…

In STEM, only 25% of UK graduates are female, despite girls outperforming boys in nearly every STEM subject at both GCSE and A-level. Much of this is to do with their lack of confidence to take their area of interest past a standard tier of education. This can’t go unsolved, which is where teachers come in.

If a student’s grade in a STEM subject doesn’t match the A* expectation but they have an obvious passion for it, they should be given the support to boost their performance and the encouragement to see it through to further and higher education. This doesn’t just mean university either but, apprenticeships too. It’s about giving young women options to explore, confidence in their abilities and the freedom to make their own decisions.

And, it ends with employers.

Even when a woman achieves a STEM qualification, it’s not necessarily an easy path into a relevant job. In fact, a study by Deloitte found that of those qualified women, only 30% pursued a career in their chosen field. It’s clear that more needs to be done by employers to attract and retain these valuable employees. As Anne-Marie says; “make sure you have balanced panels in terms of recruitment and in terms of promotion in the workplace.” After all, a diverse workforce leads to an increased pool of ideas and a sharper focus on problem-solving. It also means improved productivity, creativity and employee engagement, which altogether create a higher performing business. It’s a win-win.

So, are you a STEM business owner who wants to close the gender gap and attract a female workforce? Then, you need to prove to them that you support equality, not just across recruitment but, across pay, workload, development and benefits. Do this and you may only be one piece in the STEM puzzle but, you’ll be one that signifies a change for the better.

Want to find out how Stemettes has reached nearly 40,000 young people? Read Anne-Marie’s STEM story here. And, to catch up with what the enterprise is doing next, check the app, follow the Twitter account or sign up to the mailing list.