Why are there so few girls in STEM studies and even fewer women who pursue careers in STEM? Why are women in STEM so important? How can we change the narrative around women in STEM?
According to “Women in the Digital Age” by the European Commission (2018), there are still 4 times more men with ICT-related studies than women in Europe. The amount of men working in the sector is 313% greater than the number of women. Women represent only 21.5% of all employees with digital jobs. Furthermore, 20% of engineering school graduates are women, yet women make up only 11% of practicing engineers. Sadly, 1 in 4 female engineers leave the field after the age of 30, compared to only 1 in 10 men engineers.
Why Does STEM Matter?
“Just as the industrial revolution made it necessary for all children to learn to read, the technology revolution has made it critical for all children to understand STEM,” said Joan Ganz Cooney Centre.
STEM fields drive innovations that touch on every aspect of our lives, from day-to-day activities to imagining the future from new methods of communication, medical breakthroughs, building smart cities, and finding new clean technologies, to new frontiers in space.
Shaping the Jobs of the Future
The future of working looks increasingly digital, creating both new challenges and opportunities for the way we live. The more sought-after skill sets will require degrees of digital literacy. At 55%, the strongest growth on demand will be for technological skills, which will represent 17% of hours worked by 2030, up from 11% in 2016. Demand for social and emotional skills such as leadership and managing others will rise by 24%, to 22% of hours worked. Demand for higher cognitive skills will grow moderately overall but will rise sharply for some of these skills, especially creativity
STEM is proven to offer women a solid path to leadership: out of the top 10 of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women, 9 lead core STEM sector companies.
The Gender Gap in the Education System
The gender gap for interest in STEM studies can begin at an early school age and this gap can widen because of a loss of interest or confidence throughout girls school years. By the time girls reach the age of higher education, only 30% choose STEM-related fields of study. According to UNESCO, women’s enrollment is particularly low in ICT (3%), natural science, mathematics and statistic (5%) and engineering, manufacturing and construction (8%); the tightest is in health and welfare studies (15%).
The choice to study a STEM field can be highly impacted by a girl’s belief in her ability to succeed in the field. These factors are frequently influenced by incorrect gender stereotypes about the STEM industry.
However, using STEM for social good is a powerful incentive for women of all ages to choose STEM and stick with it. A 2006 study found that girls who consider science to be generally altruistic tend to show interest in scientific careers. Further research emphasized the benefits of using creativity as a key motivator for girls to follow a STEM path and, subsequently, careers. The stereotype persists in both men and women that STEM careers are likely to impede communal goals relative to other careers. The result is that for girls in school, value placed on communal goals negatively predicts interest in STEM careers.
This stereotype can be dispelled. There is so much potential for positive social impact and the application of thinks through a career in STEM. This is an issue of education that can be solved.
Changing the Narrative for Women in STEM
The current narrative around the role and contribution of women in STEM has been framed around the existence of barriers, such as hiring and career progression biases, hostile environments, cultural and ethical dilemmas, and lack of role models. Designing solutions to dismantle these barriers often relays the message that women need to fit in.
We can change the conversation and focus on leading women towards STEM careers. Technology is an enabler of an inclusive society and the gender inclusivity is crucial as we build solutions to humanities greatest challenges through the fields of STEM. The need to change the conversation around the discussion of women in STEM is critical if we want to thrive in the digital future. Focusing the conversation around the benefits of working in STEM is a way to both retain and attract women in STEM.Tech leadership is not just technical and scientific, it’s moral; the decisions we make in the coming decades will have a large impact on our environment and the world.