On International Women's Day: progress on women in STEM?...

Author : Fresh Student Living

07 March 2019


The increase of women in the workforce is one of the most significant structural changes in the economy over the last 40 years. Over the past few decades, there has been a massive rise in the female workforce, with the employment rate of women aged 25 to 54 rising from 57% in 1975 to a record high of 78% in 2017.

With International Women's Day taking place on March 8th (#BalanceforBetter #IWD2019), and the number of women studying STEM subjects growing, Fresh Student Living – drawing on research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) – have been analysing just how popular these subjects are – providing an insight on where women are thriving and how we can continue to attract more females in typically ‘male-dominated’ STEM subjects and industries.

More and more women seem to be embarking on careers previously considered traditionally ‘male-dominated’, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), law and more. But while women now make up almost half (47%) of employees across the board in STEM subjects, they still only represent a quarter of the jobs in mathematical sciences – and just 13% of engineering positions. Other STEM areas where women dominate include statistics, botany and healthcare.

Where women still dominate
Women may still dominate traditional roles like nurse practitioners, flight attendants and social workers, however there has also been an increase in female students entering less traditional career paths like computer programmers, aircraft pilots and even firefighters, to name a few.

Flipping gender roles
While the gender gap is still prevalent in some STEM fields, it seems to be narrowing in others, while women attending university is also on the rise.

According to the latest findings from UCAS, women in the UK are 35% more likely to go to university than men. Women attending university outnumber men in 112 of a total of 180 subjects, with women charging ahead in subjects like psychology (81.7%), social work (88.3%) and academic studies (88.7%). Nursing remains the most female-dominated subject with 90.5% female students in 2017.

Due to encouragement and some strong female role models, female students are taking on traditionally ‘male-dominated’ subjects like computer science and engineering. As it stands, there are 66,840 more women now on degree courses than men, compared with 34,035 in 2007.

This trend in university admissions can be seen in a positive light, as it indicates that more women in the UK are confident in their academic abilities, and more empowered to pursue their ambitions in higher education, whatever they may be.

Where women are thriving
Although women continue to be under-represented in STEM sectors like computer science and engineering, there are other areas in which women have made significant progress. The 2017 WES survey found that 11% of the engineering workforce is female, up from 9% in 2015.

STEM sectors like nurse practitioners and data entry have traditionally been dominated by women and continue to remain so. Below is a list of sectors in which women are thriving, with the percentage of women employed:

•    Registered nurses - 90%
•    Health practitioner support technologists & technicians - 81.4%
•    Clinical laboratory technologists - 74%
•    Medical scientists - 53.7%
•    Financial managers - 53.2%
The science of it all
Ground-breaking research by Microsoft surveyed 11,500 women between the ages of 11 and 30 in 12 countries across Europe about their attitudes to STEM. This unique insight found that most girls become interested in STEM around the age of 11-and-a-half, although most lose interest by age 15. Reasons for this include a lack of female role models in the industry and not enough practical, hands-on experience in primary and high school.

Just 42% of girls surveyed said they would consider a STEM-related career, while 60% admitted they would feel more confident pursuing a career in STEM fields if they knew men and women were equally employed in those professions.

A career in STEM can require anything from a high school diploma to a full PhD. Here are some of the most popular STEM jobs predicted to grow in 2018:

•    Software developers
•    Web developers
•    Computer support specialists
•    Information security analysts
•    Civil engineers
•    Accountants
•    Automotive service technicians & mechanics
•    School psychologist

67% of law students are women
According to UCAS data, the number of women studying law has been steadily increasing for years. In fact, there are more than double the number of female law students than men who have accepted a place to study law. To put this into perspective, of the 26,075 students accepted to study law in 2017, 33% were men and 67% were women. According to Law Society statistics, 62% of solicitors admitted to the roll in 2016 are female.

Women have become the more qualified sex
The gender pay gap has definitely become smaller. The hourly gender pay gap for full-time workers dropped by 8.3% between 1997 to 2017, with the gap for all workers dropping by about 9.1%. The IFS suggests the reason for the decline is that, overall, educational qualifications for women have increased more quickly than men’s – and from the late 2000s, women have become the more qualified sex.

How to attract more females to typically male-dominated subjects & industries
It is important to tackle the stereotypes girls are exposed to in order to attract them to study male-dominated subjects in university.

Get to them early – Most girls state a lack of confidence and skills as a reason for opting out of typically ‘male’ subjects at a high school level. Changing this perception early in the girls’ school career and introducing hands-on learning opportunities, workshops and peer interactions can open the door to more young girls feeling confident in their abilities to enter the vibrant and rewarding STEM workforce.

Bust the stereotypes – It is important to dispel the myths that dissuade young girls from studying ‘male’ subjects in school and pursuing careers in these sectors. One of the main misconceptions is that IT careers are restricted to coding and development. In fact, a strong technical background can be used to enter a vast range of career paths, including medicine, education and communications, to name just a few.

Female role models – Young women are put off careers in STEM and IT due to so few role models, and the mentality that it is a ‘boys club’. This is why mentorship plays an important role in setting females on a path to success and confidence. By pairing young women with accomplished female professionals, they can not only offer one-on-one attention and guidance, but also act as living proof that women can achieve success in these types of industries.

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