Is it possible to plug the STEM gap?

Unfortunately, the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineer professionals across Europe, with countries such as Cyprus showing close to three times as many women in similar roles. Throughout this article we will focus on women’s relationship with the STEM and manufacturing industries. 

There has long been a stereotype surrounding the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) industries. Unfortunately, despite the stereotype being very out dated, its presence still lingers, with women in the industry still at a very low level. 

The impression most have on the sector is manual labour, long working hours and rows of assembly lines. While this may not be the case, a survey carried out by Women in Manufacturing (WiM) found that almost three quarters of women would not consider a career in manufacturing as a viable option.

Selling the industry to women may seem like a fairly complex task, but in order to want to fill a job yourself, you must be able to envisage yourself in it first. For a woman, looking at a male dominated industry, it is virtually impossible for them to do so. Therefore, to encourage more women, companies need to have more women — starting at the top. 

In 2018, it was reported by the FTSE 100 that there had been a rise in female held directorships. Despite the number of female executive directorships remaining the same between 2017 and 2018, directorships rose from 294 to 305, a rise of 1.3%. Out of these 100 companies, those in the construction and building sector only featured twice. 

Untapped industry 

Unfortunately, 51 per cent of women who work in the sector state that they have been treated worse because they are female. This moves away from stereotypes however and into a dangerous position of discrimination. Women being in these roles has proved to be beneficial not only in plugging the gender gap, but also for the company’s profitability themselves. Research suggest that every 10 per cent increase in gender diversity relates to a 3.5 percent increase in gross profit.

When looking at why more women are moving into the industry, the first point worth considering is how much of an untapped industry it is. A 2016 survey found how manufacturing had the largest pool of untapped talent, simply because there were very few women in the roles previously. Not only is there an abundance of female staff available, they are also highly qualified, most possessing not only a bachelor’s but a supplementary master’s degree.

Marci Bonham, Managing Director of Hilti, proposes ‘that supporting women as they take their first management steps within the industry will have a positive impact overall’.  

The Shine Theory

Here is where shine theory makes its appearance. This is because it carries significant relevance to women trying to crack the heavily dominated male industries. The workplace can be a hard place for anyone starting new, but for a woman starting off in a new role surrounded by mainly men — well the aforementioned stats speak for themselves. 

The shine theory concentrates on how women can progress if they were befriending other females in the work place instead of battling against them. Effectively, this American concept emphasises how surrounding yourself with positive and successful women will create a positive atmosphere within. 

Early development

In 2018, a study by the Guardian discovered that women constitute only 14.4% of all people working within STEM in the UK. This is despite the fact they make-up almost half of the work force. The best way of encouraging this, is to establish more prominent idol like figures within these subject areas. 

Take for example Brian Cox, it is easier for young boys interested in getting into physics to relate to him. Alternatively, Donna Strickland, a physicist from Canada, became only the third woman ever to win the Nobel Prize award for her science. Her name, along with others who achieved spectacular heights needs to be promoted throughout kids of a young age.

However, this should not to detract from the unimaginable advancements which have been made. In 1918, women over earned the right to vote, while women being accredited for such contributions to science as Donna Strickland, is certainly a recent development.

Apprenticeships 

Apprenticeships are becoming more popular as the traditional degree route is proving to not be for everyone. The statistics for the sectors women are choosing to carry out apprenticeships in doesn’t bode well in supporting this plug of the gender gap.

Subject areas including learning support, travel services, and beauty therapy, all had 80% or more female applicants. On the other hand, vehicle maintenance and repair, gas industry, and construction skills all had below 10%.

Here, we look at two companies who continue to push to enhance the number of females on their apprenticeship schemes:

British Gas

There was an emphasis by the energy provider placed on getting women to apply for their apprenticeship scheme. They did this by offering examples of applicants with examples of some of their highest achieving female members of staff. They similarly draw upon the fact, that by putting more women into male dominated apprenticeships, the gender pay gap is likely to be bridged.

Lookers

Lookers, one of Centrica’s Top 100 employers, sell a range of automobiles, including the Ford Transit Custom, launched its female apprentice network last year with the scheme being based around setting up regular meetings between female apprentices, providing them with the opportunity to share their new-found knowledge and experiences. 

Sources:

http://www.manufacturinglounge.com/attracting-women-male-dominated-manufacturing-industry/

https://www.growthbusiness.co.uk/beating-the-bias-the-future-is-bright-for-women-in-male-dominated-sectors-2550009/

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