Breaking into a Man’s World: Closing the STEM Gender Gap

But the quest for a career that you’re passionate about is difficult enough. For women who are attempting to break into a male-dominated industry, it can feel almost impossible. Here, we delve into the obstacles that these women face as well as the opportunities that might present themselves on their journey.

Influential figures within STEM

There are many influential women in STEM: Grace Hopper, computer scientist and admiral; Katherine Johnson, space scientist and mathematician; Marie Curie, physicist and chemist. But the common theme among these female pioneers is that they are from the 20th century or earlier. We can only admire their breakthroughs in the sector, particularly at a time that was much more male-centric, but young women who are eager to work in the industry might struggle without many recent female role models. Recent studies reveal those women are more likely to be inspired to work in STEM if they have an inspirational figure whose footsteps they can follow. Not only that, but STEM workers also struggled to name influential female figures, highlighting one of the severe issues.

With the numbers of female workers in the industry growing, could there soon be more role models for women? Time will tell, but it certainly emphasises the importance of female workers in STEM.

STEMettes: assisting aspiring young girls

Thankfully, there are organisations to assist those who are trying to break into the male-dominated industry and contribute to an increase in female workers. Whilst there may be a lack of modern influential female figures in STEM, one organisation known as ‘STEMettes’ acts as inspiration. For many young girls aged 5-25, STEMettes provides content platforms for encouragement and running events.

Additionally, the organisation is co-founded by a female STEM worker, Anne-Marie Imafidon, who was inspired by a speech at a Celebration of Women in Computing forum. Imafidon experienced the industry’s lack of women in STEM during her time at university in which she was only one of three women studying maths and computer science. Despite her difficulties, she graduated at the age of 20 and eventually started roles for major international companies such as Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs. Currently, the co-founder is a keynote speaker and host of the Women Tech Charge podcast. Her work has received widespread recognition, as she was awarded an MBE in 2017 for her services to young women who aspire to work within the STEM industry. Thus, she represents what can be achieved despite obstacles. She has become a role model for many young girls who are deterred by the fact that there are so many males in the sector.

Grasping opportunities

Research by STEM Women has shown that, between 2015–2019, around 28% of graduates from core STEM subjects were women. To support the growth of the industry, establishments are attempting to boost the number of women in STEM, such as Newcastle College. In fact, the establishment has witnessed a 60% increase in the number of women who are signing up to engineering courses, but there is a range of foundation courses for the various sectors of the industry.

Higher education is witnessing an increase of female STEM students. Between 2011-2020, the number of women accepted on STEM undergraduate courses increased by 50.1%. As well as this, the women beginning undergraduate STEM courses increased to 41.4% from 33.6%. So, we could potentially see more roles in the industry filled by women in the near future.
In an attempt to increase the proportion of women in the industry, the government is investing money and resources into several initiatives, including an £84 million programme. In addition to this, they are committed to supporting programmes such as ‘Improving Gender Balance’ in physics, as well as a ‘Gender Balance in Computing Programme’. So, as well as a potential increase in girls choosing STEM GCSE subjects, it can also benefit disadvantaged students.

Being a woman in search of a career in STEM can seem intimidating, especially since it is currently dominated by males. Fortunately, more opportunities are opening up – so it’s extremely important for these to be grasped. There are, of course, obstacles, but there is a need for more women in the industry to provide influential figures for the next generation.