Finding the root of our STEM gender gap

If science teaches us one thing, it is to have a healthy respect for the facts – and the truth is that not enough women work in the STEM industries.

So, faced as we are with this chronic under-representation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, how do we begin to close the gender gap and inspire more women to pursue careers in the field?

It’s a question I constantly ask myself – both as someone with an engineering background, and because I am personally committed to Accenture’s goal of achieving a gender balanced workforce globally by 2025.

Why it matters

Having women in STEM matters. It matters for girls because STEM careers are rewarding and pay around 30 per cent more than other careers.

It matters to everyone else because women make up slightly more than half of the population – and if they aren’t involved in many of the STEM-based jobs that shape our lives, there will be a vast hole in the way we think, the way we create, and the way we build.

Bridging the gender gap could reduce the STEM skills shortage, boost GDP, and ultimately help to ensure that the UK retains its position as a leading digital economy.

However, currently just 11 per cent of the UK’s engineering workforce are women, while 15.1 per cent of engineering and technology undergraduates are female.

Pervasive problem

UNESCO has noted that not only does gender imbalance in STEM continue to be a pervasive problem, but in some instances the gap is widening.

I believe that UK employers have a crucial role to play in helping to turn these numbers around, through interventions like challenging stereotypes and promoting attractive careers for women in STEM.

But there is another untapped resource that deserves our attention, in the form of those swathes of young people who are readily available to enter the workforce, but lack the right skills, or find themselves locked out in a cycle of “no experience, no job; no job, no experience”.

The latest ONS statistics show that there are currently 790,000 young people (aged 16 to 24) in the UK who are not in education, employment or training. Of these, 375,000 are women.

Driving momentum

While we focus on improving technology skills to ensure that the UK remains competitive, we must ensure we are making them available in an inclusive way.

At Accenture, we are investing in programmes that offer young people from all backgrounds a path into STEM, under our flagship Skills to Succeed programme.

Accenture is also a founding member of Movement to Work, a voluntary coalition of UK employers committed to tackling youth unemployment by offering quality work placement opportunities.

I’ve seen the benefits of training young women first-hand. One example is Michelle Taylor, who left mainstream education at 10 years old. She never had the opportunity to gain qualifications and purse her interest in STEM subjects.

However, through the Movement to Work placement, Michelle is now in her second year of a four-year technology apprenticeship with us.

The participants involved in this programme demonstrate the impact we as employers can have in helping more young women into STEM careers.

By offering access to the right training and work experience, we can harness their potential to help close the STEM gender gap. But we can also build a more inclusive digital economy in which everyone has the opportunity to succeed.

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