STEM women in a lab

One million women could be working in STEM by 2020, campaign finds

Image credit: Dreamstime

The UK is on track to reach one million women working in STEM professions by 2020, the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) campaign revealed at the annual WISE Awards in London.

Research by the campaign found that there are already approximately 900,000 women working in core STEM jobs, while a further 200,000 young women currently studying STEM subjects would reach working age within the next two years. The 900,000 women are outnumbered almost four-to-one by male peers, although the “critical mass” of 30 per cent female employment in STEM is tantalisingly close in several key roles, such as physicists and planning technicians, WISE found.

In her welcome speech at the WISE Awards, campaign patron HRH Anne, the Princess Royal, said that if employers managed to recruit half of the 200,000 young women qualified to do STEM jobs, the UK could have one million women working in STEM by 2020.

Princess Anne – who also presented the awards – said that it was important to encourage young women to be curious about the world and open to the possibilities of working in STEM. She cited Nobel-prize-winning physicist Donna Strickland, astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, and the first female incarnation of the Doctor in the BBC’s ‘Doctor Who as good role models for young women in STEM.

WISE called on employers to accelerate their efforts in order to reach its target of one million women in STEM by 2020. At its awards ceremony, WISE acknowledged outstanding efforts by employers and individuals (including men) to open up STEM careers to young women, women returning to work, and women transitioning from other sectors.

“We need UK employers to do more and follow the great example of our Award winners who are leading the way. They have managed to get more women into engineering and technology, removed barriers preventing women moving up through the ranks and seen the benefits in terms of improved business performance,” said Helen Wollaston, CEO of WISE. “The great news is that there are more women than ever before coming onto the labour market with engineering and technology qualifications. If employers manage to recruit just half of these women, the UK will have achieved a major milestone.

“There is a major opportunity for companies in the UK to step up their efforts to ensure they retain the women they already have in STEM roles, as well as opening doors for those who may want to retrain from other roles or return after career breaks,” she continued. “Employers can benefit from retraining women who already work for them, many of whom would jump at the opportunity to learn new skills and have a more interesting role with better pay and prospects. This will also help with the gender pay gap.”

A study published earlier this week found that women were particularly poorly represented in technology leadership roles, with women making up just 13 per cent of board members and 17 per cent of senior executives in the UK’s leading technology companies. Women are outnumbered in technical subjects such as physics from post-16 education onwards, meaning that many efforts to reach gender parity in STEM target young girls.

“A girl studying A-Level electronics told WISE recently that she feels her generation is on the cusp of finding new and better ways of creating things in a sustainable way,” said Wollaston. “Science and engineering and tech are fundamental to the future of the planet, we need women to take their rightful place in creating that new future.”

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