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            Levelling Up STEM Diversity

            9th November 2022

            Since 2016, the number of women working in STEM fields has increased by 216,552, which has taken the total number over the 1 million mark for the first time. On the surface this would appear to show a linear increase, however, due to the more rapid growth in the number of men graduating in these subject areas, the percentage of women in STEM has fluctuated from 25%, down to 24%, and finally up to 26% where it stalled in 2019. Using the data trends from the last ten years, 2009-2019, WISE have estimated that by 2030, they expect to reach over 29% of women in the STEM workforce.

            New research from EngineeringUK has shown that 16.5% of those working in engineering are female, compared to 10.5% as reported in 2010. According the recent UCAS data, 35% of STEM students in higher education in the UK are women.

            The stats show a promising future if industry can properly support female scientists, technology experts, engineers and mathematicians. The fact that diversity benefits all is well known, however, while more than half of organisations may have strategies in place to improve diversity, hiring and retaining a diverse workforce can be a challenge.

            Despite long running initiatives there are still challenges faced by women with STEM skills in the workplace resulting in numbers dropping from 35% of graduates in STEM to 26% of the workforce being female in industry with STEM skills.

            In a recent STEM Women survey it was revealed, 57% of respondents said they had suffered from or experienced imposter syndrome. Many highlighted that this arose from feeling like the ‘odd one out.’ 54% of respondents also stated that the gender balance of a company would be an influencing factor when deciding on a job offer. This points to a crucial area employers can encourage and promote a diverse workforce – at the application stage. Via gender neutral specifications as well as female representation on interview panels, in promotional material and in key roles throughout the company. The same survey also demonstrates the importance of diversity initiatives. From 2019 to 2021, the percentage of respondents that saw diversity initiatives as extremely or very important when accepting job offers rose from 74% in 2019 to 89% in 2021.

            From 2019 to 2021, the percentage of respondents who would expect to read the gender pay gap reports when researching employers has moved from 65%, down to 35% in 2020, and then back up to 60% in 2021. There could be many factors that contributed to this dip, but one of the clearest is the pandemic. With such an unprecedented health crisis, it is easy to see why respondents may not have had gender pay gaps at the forefront of their minds however the swift increase in 2021 demonstrates a need for company transparency and accountability. Company visibility is also a deciding factor, 77% of respondents were more likely to apply to a company that they had heard speak during a careers event.

            The respondents believe the biggest barriers to overcome in order to pursue any career path they wish were ‘strong competition'(28%), followed by ‘lack of experience’ (24%) and ‘lack of confidence’ (16%). There have been numerous reports which have looked into the confidence differences between men and women. A Hewlett Packard report found that men are more likely to apply for a job or promotion when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women are more likely to only apply if they meet 100% of them. Another study also found that men are far more at ease with self-promotion than women, which contributes to a broad disparity in promotions and pay.

            There is a wealth of creativity and technical innovation in the UK that must be supported; in doing so we can grow the sector and see the UK become a technological powerhouse for innovation. Improving the pathways into technology, addressing the equal participation of boys and girls in STEM and continuing to support staff at work will ensure the sector benefits from a skilled, engaged and confident workforce.

            MD Comment

            Despite long-running initiatives in schools, universities and industry there is still a concerning gap between the numbers of male and female employees with STEM skills across businesses and industry as a whole. Its clear from research the challenges are complex and not of one size fits all nature. However, the benefits of a diverse and balanced workplace and workforce cannot be over-estimated, the upsides for employees, businesses, UK PLC and society are huge which is why we should demand initiatives continue and even more innovation and scrutiny is introduced to the STEM arena to ensure, as the government would put it, we see real “Levelling Up”.

            Posted by Mike Gorshkov

            Managing Director at Linea Resourcing

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