Why female empowerment is the solution to a shortage of STEM workers

Posted on 8 Mar 2022 by The Manufacturer

Female workers are still dramatically underrepresented in STEM careers. While the percentage of women in STEM jobs is increasing, it’s still lower than we’d like.

In engineering, women make up only 10% of the workforce and only 16% of IT professionals.

While increasing the number of women in STEM is important for equality, it will also help the sector tackle a widening skills gap. Here, piston rings supplier, FPE Seals discusses how to empower more women into STEM roles.

Begin encouragement at school

The careers we take are often a result of the subjects we study and excel in at school. But they’re also impacted by the way young people are encouraged down different routes. By key stage four, girls are significantly less likely to rank STEM subjects as enjoyable. Only 32% of girls said they enjoyed STEM, compared to 59% of boys. The percentage of boys who rated themselves as good in STEM (60%) is almost double the figure for girls (33%).

What’s interesting, however, is that girls outrank boys when it comes to STEM subject performance. More girls achieved the highest grade bands in STEM than boys in 2021. It’s not an issue of skill but it could instead be that young women are deterred from pursuing careers in STEM, while young men are encouraged towards them.

Studies have shown that gender stereotypes play a role in girls not choosing STEM subjects. Instead, the majority pursue more stereotypically feminine subjects in the arts and English. In order for girls to consider future STEM careers, they should be encouraged from an early age. Young girls should be made aware of their proficiencies in school level maths, technology, and science subjects.

Partner with educational institutions

As we’ve discussed, young girls may be subtly dissuaded from pursuing STEM. This could be because these subjects are often considered to be traditionally masculine. It’s clear that more needs to be done by schools, colleges, and universities to encourage young women into these sectors, but businesses can play a role too.

Partnering with a university can help you to connect with students who are in STEM or STEM-adjacent subjects. Many universities will allow partner businesses to come and speak directly to students. This can give you the opportunity to promote your business and the work you do to bright young minds.

As well as getting the opportunity to ‘sell’ STEM to the next generation of workers, you could also benefit from graduate schemes. Market-leading businesses including Natwest, Cisco, the AA, and Amazon’s UK branch all partake in UK graduate schemes. As such, businesses can benefit from the talent pool of UK universities.

Offer opportunities to the women in your business

When it comes to filling essential skills gaps, people in your business are often the best option. While they may need training for a brand-new role, they’ll know your company policies and processes inside out. In essence, they’ll understand what you’re trying to achieve.

If you have a lot of women in traditionally ‘feminine’ roles such as admin, why not give them the opportunity to train up in a new area of the business? Women were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, with more females losing their jobs than males. What’s more, fewer women feel secure in their current jobs than men. Giving them the opportunity to upskill can help women feel more confident about their future. As well as providing on-the-job training, you can offer to fund further and higher education courses for women in your business who are interested in switching over to an engineering or technology-based role.

Providing STEM opportunities to women in your business can help strengthen your position as a workplace committed to gender equality. Until more women begin to graduate from STEM subjects, increasing your percentage of female STEM employees can be difficult. So why not give the women already committed to your business an unmissable opportunity?

When it comes to STEM careers, two things are clear. The first is that there is a pressing skills gap that threatens to get wider if supply doesn’t meet demand. The second is that women are still underrepresented in the workforce. Empowering women to pursue a rewarding STEM career is essential for addressing gender equality. But it also allows your business to add valuable skills to a workforce in need. From school to higher education and the workplace, we need to make sure women know that they will excel in these types of roles.