National Women in Engineering Day and the myths about women in STEM

Women are hugely under-represented in STEM fields - just 15% of all STEM employees are female. Today (23rd June) is National Women in Engineering Day, which aims to raise the profile of women in engineering and encourage girls to consider a career in the sector.

The challenge is that whilst there are many STEM employers who are making huge progress in female representation, many women working in the sector still face significant barriers. The Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings shows that the gender pay gap is 25% in ‘skilled trades’ occupations, which includes STEM roles. Our own Project 28-40 STEM Sector Insight found that overarching issues women in work face are particularly pronounced in STEM industries. For example:

  • Almost two-thirds (62%) of women in STEM felt there were few realistic female role models for them, compared to 52% of women overall.

  • They were also hugely concerned about workplace bullying and sexual harassment – 52% had been bullied at work in the last three years and a further 13% experienced sexual harassment - as well as about the impact reporting this behaviour would have on the careers.

  • 59% also agreed that as a woman ‘you have to be extra special to succeed’ and that they faced pressure to prove their technical capability and knowledge.

Women in STEM also face huge challenges over flexible working, where they were often seen as less committed and were less likely to progress at the same rate as their peers even if their outputs were similar. This all has an impact on progression and pay.

However, the #distractinglysexy hashtag and the Government’s #notjustforboys campaign have shown the huge range of roles the sector covers. STEM employers now need to channel that into their own outreach, by engaging early with girls and young women in schools and at university and using a wide range of recruitment channels. Many employers are already taking this approach to increase the number of women in engineering and other STEM fields, such as National Grid and the Royal Air Force.

Other STEM employers are also working to give women within their organisations the support to succeed, including when they have a family or other outside commitments. For example, BAE Systems won the Opportunity Now Agile Organisation Award 2015 for their Smart Working offer, which shifted the value of work onto outputs and performance and has helped normalise agile working for both male and female employees.

Research by WISE has found that attracting more women to the STEM sector could contribute an extra £2bn to the UK economy. With an ageing workforce, many of whom are due to retire in the next few years, now is the perfect time for STEM employers to focus their efforts on recruiting more women. But as well as attracting new applicants, they also need to give their existing female employees the support to stay in STEM careers.