2 December, 2021

STEM and the gender issue

01 September, 2021

Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, manufacturing and engineering (like so many most other professional spheres) have been male dominated – and they continue to be so. Nevertheless, it is highly encouraging to witness major strides in the direction of greater gender parity. 2019 statistics from the UK Government point to just over a million women (1,019,400) in our STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workforce. This illustrates an increase of over 350,000 women (24%) taking employment in these spheres of work. Positive news indeed, but there remains some distance to travel before there is evidence of gender equality in these industries. 2020’s target was reached and 2030’s target of 1.5 million women in STEM occupations would equate to 30% of this workforce filled by women.

Harvard University Institute of Politics states that 30% is the ‘critical mass’ level where a minority group of women would have the ability to influence real change. In a post-pandemic, post-Brexit world, women in STEM have become more important than ever. These two events have highlighted issues within these sectors which Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh Campus looks at in more detail. Heriot-Watt makes the point that the COVID-19 pandemic affected the world in many ways – one being unravelling the limited progress we had made towards gender equality over the last couple of decades. It adds that while research has reported that men are more susceptible to severe effects of COVID-19, the financial and social toll is paid by more women. Women in insecure, informal, and lower-paid jobs experienced more loss of employment. Furthermore, Black, Asian, and ethnic minority women were hit hardest by job cuts. “Working in STEM, you’re likely to have a high-paid job,” says Heriot-Watt. “There is a lot of growth in these jobs as well as high employment rates for graduates and being revolutionised by technology. Women are at a disadvantage by being underrepresented in some of the most lucrative and secure industries.”

According to the UN’s report, Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women: “Across the globe, women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs, are more likely to be employed in the informal sector. They have less access to social protections and are the majority of single-parent households. Their capacity to absorb economic shocks is therefore less than that of men.” Melinda Gates, philanthropist and former general manager at Microsoft, comments: “Innovation happens when we approach urgent challenges from every different point of view. Bringing women and underrepresented minorities into the field guarantees that we see the full range of solutions to the real problems that people face in the world.”

Heriot-Watt believes that the pandemic taught us that empathetic, reactive, and agile leadership was essential to help curb the spread of the virus. Legislation brought in by female prime minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern helped stamp out the virus across the entire country. It has been reported that female leaders have handled the pandemic crisis well. HeriotWatt adds that now more than ever it is important to have a female point of view in the workplace, not just in politics and running countries, but in industries where women are underrepresented. “Women can bring diverse and fresh perspectives to male-dominated fields, creating a better platform for innovation, creativity, and decision-making,” it states.

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