July 15, 2024

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International Women’s Day – time to talk about women in STEM Careers

Lisa Baker, SEO & Marketing Specialist, discusses the low levels of professional women in STEM careers.

International Women’s Day, like Women in STEM  is close to my heart.  Each year, I share about the everyday women amaze and inspire me.

However, it’s a gentleman who inspired me this year.

STEM Careers Fairs – ‘Not relevant for Girls’

My son in law, a Chartered Engineer, was working with the UK Engineering Council to let schools know about a STEM careers event that was taking place locally.

One of the schools he approached was an all-girls school.  On following up with the Head, it turns out his invitation hadn’t got far – the school receptionist had apparently decided that STEM careers events were not relevant to the school’s all-female students and had thrown the invitation in the bin!

Women in STEM is close to my heart because I’ve worked in the IT industry for a large part of my working life.  I’ve worked in all manner of roles, including sales, marketing, call centre management, web design and SEO.  Many of these roles have required a combination of those skills, despite it being an odd mix.  Throughout my career, my immediate colleagues have been mostly male.  Where I’ve had female colleagues, they’ve been in admin, sales and marketing, not tech roles.

Why don’t we see enough Women in STEM careers?

My experience is not unusual.  Women in STEM isn’t even equal at university level, only 25 per cent of the UK’s STEM graduates and 21 percent of the STEM workforce are female.  So why do so many women shun jobs in science, engineering and technology?

Dame Judith Hackett, the Chair of the EEF, believes ‘gender assignment’ from an early age plays a big part in discouraging women in STEM, referencing an eminent British physicist criticising toy brick-maker Lego recently for producing new gender-specific products.

“I was given Lego by my father for my fourth birthday. It became my favourite toy, it wasn’t gender specific. Why is everything ‘for girls’ pink? It’s much worse than it was.”

I agree – my three year old granddaughter already tells me that pink means it’s a ‘girls toy’, even though her favourite books and toys are all about trains, and her little brother loves her pink Minnie Mouse toy.  These stereotypes are something my son-in-law is actively working to change.

Even PPE for women is pink – and designed to fit a man!

It isn’t only unconscious bias with toys – it doesn’t help when, in adulthood, women in construction and engineering find that women’s PPE is often, annoyingly,  also pink – and yet it’s still designed to fit a man, rather than sized to female proportions!

If we are ever going to fill the shortage of skilled employees in these vital sectors, we need to start by not excluding 50% of the population – Women in STEM are a necessity.

Our female Prime Minister famously said there are ‘jobs for girls’ and ‘jobs for the boys’.  It’s even more scary to hear that a whole school’s STEM career options could have been sabotaged merely because a receptionist didn’t think girls would be interested.  Thankfully, the follow-up got the Head on board.   I’m proud Chris is my son in law.

North Wales Web Design company owner, Paul Lyons, has run his web design business in St. Athan, and says even when women are in technical professions, it is often in ‘softer’ areas, like SEO and digital marketing:

“I work with a number of SEO agencies who provide our North Wales clients with excellent service, and they tend to be a mix of men and women, whereas in web development, we tend to see more males.  There is no need for this to be the case, I’ve worked with some very skilled women over the years.”

Managing Director Brian Stokes, who runs multi-award-winning IT Support & Business Telecoms company, ITCS, believes that the STEM sector needs to do more to attract women and chellenge unnecessary stereotypes.

He says:

“I’ve always been passionate about diversity and I welcome applications from women for the tech roles we offer, like IT engineers, network managers and software developers.  However, I can only interview and assess the candidates who actually apply.  There are always more male applicants.  However, the women who work in my business are every bit as capable as the men – and all my staff do a fantastic job.  

“We need to get more women interested in STEM careers and it’s great to see groups like #WomeninCoding leading the way – I look forward to the day when the applicants for an engineering or development role are as diverse as the population.”

On International Women’s Day, that’s definitely something to think about.