Chief Editor, WISE
Balancing the pipeline into STEM subjects is a focus for all organisations looking for more diversity in their STEM workforce, but recent statistics show that addressing disparities in further education will be a mammoth task.
Data released by Engineering UK shows that we would need a jaw-dropping 115,000 more girls to study maths or physics at A-Level for them to match the number of male students studying engineering and technology degrees.
Awareness of options
Only 8% of female students who took maths or engineering went on to pursue engineering and technology degrees. We must address this disparity to ensure our technology and engineering sectors are innovative, representative and globally competitive.
There is work to be done at two key points in the pipeline. First, girls need to be made aware that a career in science is an option for them before they choose their GCSEs at 14.
WISE’s ‘My Skills My Life’ outreach programme can help. It shows girls of secondary school age the types of careers that might suit them according to their personality type, then introduces them to female role models in similar careers.
This programme inspires girls to study STEM subjects since it shows the types of roles available and that they are rewarding, satisfying and often well-paid. Women role models are hugely important for girls at this age.
Women role models are hugely
important for girls at this age.
The second piece of work is outreach to further education colleges since there is a huge difference in the A-level to degree conversion rate between young men and women (23% of male students who studied maths or physics — or both — went on to study engineering and technology in higher education compared with just 8% of women).
At this point, young women are interested in the subjects but do not pursue a career using them. Reports show that it is, again, because of the perception of STEM careers being better suited to men.
Involving young women
We should change these stereotypes, and many WISE members are helping colleges to make their work appealing to young women. They must ensure that women role models are involved, that the work seeks to solve a societal or community problem and that any marketing material shows a diverse workforce.
Similarly, teenage girls might be encouraged to participate in short programmes such as those offered by the Smallpiece Trust. These subsidised programmes provide insight into aerospace engineering, structural engineering and more — and can create enthusiasm for a STEM career.