When it comes to STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), do any of these quotes sound familiar?
From female students:
“When I picture a stereotypical scientist I just see a man in a long white coat.”
From teachers about female students:
“I think they’re often so good at so many different subjects it can be difficult for them to narrow down what area they want to go in to.”
“They don’t always know the different roles that are out there, or realise what diversity there is in those [STEM] roles.”
A report by Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) lays out the case for increasing diversity in STEM careers as “not simply desirable in terms of equality, but necessary if we are to maximise individual opportunity and meet economic need.” With an estimated shortfall of 40,000 employees in STEM careers, making STEM attractive to all makes sense to our economy. The individuals who follow these paths benefit too: “on average those working in STEM occupations earn 20% more than those working in other fields. In addition to the premium attached to a degree, STEM graduates typically earn higher wages than non- STEM graduates.” In March this year, the education secretary Nicky Morgan said that girls who take maths or science A-Levels can earn a third more than peers who stick to arts and humanities.
It is usually at A-Level when the gaps in STEM participation start to form, as students are free to drop subjects. Only one in five A-Level physics students is a girl – a number that hasn’t improved in 20 years. Figures for mathematics and chemistry are more encouraging, and girls actually outnumber boys in biology, but consistently outperform their male peers at all levels of education and across subjects.
Much has been made of this participation gap, with the public and private sector often joining forces in initiatives to decrease it. At Intel we have our own initiatives like sponsoring the WISE Girl Award recognising and celebrating young women with a passion for STEM whose outstanding achievements have already inspired other girls. We also sponsored the recent Women of the Future Conference in Norfolk.
Flegg High School was one of 20 schools in rural Norfolk chosen to take part in the conference at the one of the world’s leading research institutes – the John Innes Centre in Norwich. The video below shows what happened on the day.
While we’re not at the “magic” figure of 30 per cent of STEM workers being female yet, we hope that events like this will go towards turning the quotes at the top of this post into quotes like these:
“I received a phone call from a parent of one of the students who attended saying that she had never seen her so enthused after a school trip. She also felt that it had given her an insight into why we study what we do at GCSE and how it now “all sort of fits”.
“I was extremely inspired by the speakers today. It’s inspired me to achieve my goals as an astrophysicist.”
“Today was a great experience as it opened my eyes to the variety of careers available from science.”
What are your thoughts around driving females to take up STEM subjects? Do you have any success stories to share? We’d be really interested to hear your thoughts. Let us know in the comments below, or via our Twitter or Facebook page.