Women are a powerful source of new talent

Women could be the answer to help address the shortages of STEM skills. But there is still work to do

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International shifts

Addressing false perceptions

Research highlights

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Key take-away

Too long under-represented in STEM, women will prove a powerful source of new talent

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Key statistic

50% (661) of responders to the SThree STEM Youth Survey were female – an indication that women are due to make up a greater proportion of the STEM workforce going forward

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Growth in national economies across the world is being held back by shortages of STEM skills. Every opportunity for individual advancement must be supported and progressed. And yet women remain conspicuously under-represented as employed in the main STEM sectors. In short, the STEM skills gap is compounded and confounded by a STEM gender gap.

Gender equality matters for many compelling reasons. To shape STEM solutions that work for as many people as possible, it is crucial the STEM sector reflects wider society, with its diversity of thought, experience and backgrounds.

Industry body WeAreTechWomen, for instance, highlights the pivotal role played by women in the scientific response to the Covid-19 pandemic - vaccinologist Professor Sarah Gilbert and epidemiologist Professor Azra Ghani are two examples – and gives a clear sense of how much more we could achieve if women made up more than a quarter of the overall STEM workforce.

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International shifts

Of the 4,960 people who responded to the SThree survey, more than 80% (3,983) identified as male, compared with 17% (880) female. For example, of the 1,215 respondents in Germany, 87% (1,067) were male and just 11% (139) were female.

And for Japan, a similar male-female gender disparity is evident (83%–15%). However, with the respondent sample from the USA, the balance shifts by about 15% in favour of females – 67% (611) male to 30% (280) female.

So, it’s reasonably self-evident that more women entering STEM professions globally would play a significant part in closing the skills gap that continues to hamper those sectors. According to data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, fewer than 30% of the world’s science researchers are women.

Better news is that there are indications of positive change in the offing. More women than men responded to the SThree STEM Youth Survey – 50% women, to 46% men – which indicates that women will occupy a bigger role in the STEM industries of the 2020s and 2030s.

Addressing false perceptions

The challenge is often one of addressing imbalances through practical change, but also of removing barriers to change that may remain in place in STEM workplaces. For instance, WISE – the non-profit organisation which campaigns for gender equality in science, engineering, and other technical professions – has advised employers to establish a virtuous circle of attention, retention and progression to improve gender balance in STEM roles.

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“Women are more likely to want to work for an organisation when they can see other women in senior roles, and where opportunities for progression are justly visible and accessible” Kay Hussain, CEO at WISE

Gender representation imbalance presents challenges, but we are starting to discover the nature of these, and in doing so, ways to address them. “Ensuring that we place candidates from diverse backgrounds is critical to the future success of the employers we work with,” says Gemma Branney, Global Head of ESG for SThree. “This is one of the reasons behind our Breaking the Glass initiative.”

Breaking the Glass was founded by SThree, in Texas to address gender disparity in the tech industry through professional development and networking for women in tech and their allies.

The initiative has grown to a network of 2,000+ professionals across the tech industry in the US. Breaking the Glass is now being rolled out as a global community programme.

Case Study: Schneider Electric

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