There are 1 million women working in the STEM workforce. How do we get 1 million more?

Aletta Jacobs, was one of the first female physicians in the Netherlands and was founder of the world’s first birth control clinic. Marie Curie, was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and remains the only woman to win a Nobel Prize twice. Professor Molly Stevens, was the first woman to be awarded a Royal Pharmaceutical Society conference science medal.

Women have been the champions of the STEM world since its very beginnings. As of 2019, there are one million women working in the UK STEM workforce, which is equivalent to 24%. It is estimated, that by 2030 this percentage will rise to 29%.

“I have always been interested in being involved in STEM. I enjoy the challenges that are presented and having to take a logical approach to solve them.” Jamie Matthews is a cyber associate at AON, a multinational firm that sells financial risk mitigation products. She has been working there for 3 months as part of a graduate scheme.

More women in STEM should discuss their career journeys, their amazing research contributions, and how they have overcome adversity in the field

Dr Benita Percival

Around 35% of STEM university students in the UK are women. Since 2015, the number of women graduating from STEM subjects has grown, however, because of the increase in men also graduating in this area, the percentage of women graduates is only 26%. Dr Georgia Hinchliffe believes that the number of women interested in STEM comes from a lack of role models. “I think for a lot of young girls growing up, there aren’t always apparent role models that they can aspire to in the field of STEM,” she explains. “I think that for this reason, STEM are seen as a ‘male’ role in society and this puts off young women at the very start- choosing their GCSE’s for example- from pursuing careers of those types.” 

Dr Benita Percival agrees with Dr Hinchliffe stating, “One contributing factor [to women not pursuing careers in STEM] is a lack of role models. More women in STEM should discuss their career journeys, their amazing research contributions, and how they have overcome adversity in the field.”  Research technician Harriet Hill, understands the importance and influence of positive female role models,  “My A-level biology teacher was a great help,” she explains when I ask what interested her in a STEM career, “she really fostered my interests, for example, giving me books to read, explaining more to me outside of class, and really encouraging me to pursue science as a career.” 

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A gender balanced workforce, regardless of the profession, can result in higher workplace satisfaction, boosted creativity, and an increase in employee loyalty. Research shows that when you reach a 30% representation of a particular group, said group is more likely to feel less like a minority. Unfortunately, in the world of STEM, that 30% still has not been achieved. “There are more men in my department than there are women,” Digital Development Specialist Eryn Blount tells me, “though I would just like to point out”, she continues, “that I have never been made to feel anything but empowered by the men that I work with.” Technical Analyst Rebekah Kane has also noticed the lack of women around her. “I went from studying at an all girl’s school, to learning in a lecture theatre with over 200 men and 30 women, to working in a company with 700 men and 50 or so women,” she explains. 

I was surprised at the number of women working within the cyber team

Jamie Matthews

Despite the fact that STEM careers are a long way from being gender balanced there are small victories to be had. “ I work with more women now than I did during my internship, which is great to see – there have been a lot of new female hires in the past two years,” Rebekah informs me. In spite of only 8% of women working in the cyber industry, Jamie says “I was surprised at the number of women working within the cyber team in the London offices. There is roughly a 50/50 split across the team in general.” 

It’s not just hiring women in STEM positions that will help flatten the gender curve, but ensuring that there are an even amount of women in senior STEM roles. “My line manager is a woman and there are other women within the company that are in senior positions,” Eryn tells me, “however I would say the ratio is in favour for men then it is women.” Senior STEM rolls also include university lecturers and professors. “During my masters it was definitely an “old boys club”,” Harriet says. “At my current job, I have a female manager and she is great. I can tell she respects me, not only as a person, but also as a member of the team.”

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

Having women in senior positions is a crucial part of inspiring more women and girls to consider a career in STEM. Research shows that role models have 3 core benefits for women: they represent and expand what is possible, inspire women to be more ambitious and aim higher, and they demonstrate the mindset and behaviours of how to rise. “Across the worldwide business, there is a large number of women in leadership, including directors, COO’s, and CEO’s” Jamie says about Aon. “The company is also keen to celebrate women in leadership which I find inspiring,” she continues, “and keep increasing the number of women they would like to be working in senior roles.” Dr Percival also finds inspiration in senior women in STEM stating, “Professor Alex Ritcher is an inspirational leader at the University of Birmingham.” 

Women are going to space, we are founding and leading multibillion dollar organisations, we are doing what the women who came before us could only dream of.

Rebekah Kane

With the number of women working in STEM, slowly but surely, on the rise, and women taking on more senior roles in the field, what is the future for women in STEM? “Bright,” Rebekah says, “Women are going to space, we are founding and leading multibillion dollar organisations, we are doing what the women who came before us could only dream of. It’s a remarkable time to be a woman, especially one in STEM, and the future for us is only looking brighter.” Eryn agrees with this, “I think women are going to end up taking over,” she says, “I feel like once women realise that this industry is for them too, a lot more women will be interested in joining a career in STEM.” Dr Percival could not agree more, “I believe the future will see more women in STEM with equal opportunities, and more accessibility to role models.”

After speaking to these incredible women working in STEM, I wanted to hear their words of wisdom for any girls and women considering a STEM career. Dr Georgia Hinchliffe’s advice is simple, “DO IT!” Harriet advises, “Don’t give in to imposters syndrome and believe in yourself.” And finally Eryn encourages, “your gender should never define the job you can do. Your career is your life and you make that choice, not what a stereotype tells you to do.”