The STEM sectors in every country, across the world are growing, and need an increasingly large workforce. In the UK, we require up to 185,000 more engineers by 2024 and we have over 12,800 digital technology vacancies in Scotland alone. In order for Scotland to remain globally competitive and be a progressive leader on social justice, we need to tackle the clear gender gap in STEM.
Within Europe, there are no countries with equal numbers of men and women pursuing STEM education (as illustrated in diagram below). Women remain under-represented across science, engineering and technology subjects at school, at university or college and in the workforce.
There are multiple causes for this gender gap; firstly institutionalised, society wide gender stereotypes which can dictate the choices available to boys and girls from birth. Consider the toys often purchased for boys compared to those purchased for girls; toys with a science focus are three times more likely to be targeted at boys. Media influence, parental influence, peer and teacher influences can reinforce stereotypes which narrow the opportunities available to children. These at a particular moment in time or as a single incidence may not cause concern, but their accumulative affect is to deter girls from pursuing STEM and make it more likely that they will be locked out of the jobs of the future.
Secondly, these institutionalised gender stereotypes become harmful, sexist cultures as we grow, particularly where there are male dominated environments such as STEM workplaces. For the small number of women who pursue STEM subjects, qualify and then find themselves in STEM workplaces, they often encounter limitations in their progress, in their promotions, in the flexibility on offer and in their networking opportunities.
But it does not have to be this way. Over the last five years, there has been considerable progress on creating more inclusive environments for women to work in and gender equality has become high on the STEM industry agenda across Europe. To bring some of this learning together and share good practice, the Engendering STEM project has been created in a partnership between Spain, Scotland and the Netherlands.
The project will be focusing on STEM small and medium size employers (those with fewer than 250 employees) and supporting them to develop gender equality initiatives, cultures and processes. We will be sharing case studies of those already leading in this area in our respective countries, and providing toolkits on a range of gender equality measures to support progressive STEM employers. We will be supporting better recruitment, flexible working, marketing, outreach and progression in a bid to create welcoming and attractive workplace cultures for women across Europe to flourish in.
Over the next eighteen months, we will be working to bring this to as many employers as possible. To make this a reality we need employers to make a commitment to get involved, but critically to take seriously the gender gap in STEM. Only then can we overcome this challenge and create competitive, economically sustainable and socially progressive STEM sectors across Europe.