Why gender stereotypes risk driving women away from successful careers in STEM
According to the ‘Jobs of the Future’ report by UK non-partisan think tank, the Social Market Foundation and EDF Energy, the surge in digital innovation and infrastructure growth will result in 142,000 new STEM job vacancies by 2023.
That’s amazing news! However, let’s not get too excited…
The report also highlights the fact that whilst there were an estimated 462,000 women working in science, research, engineering and technology in 2016 (19%), women are still underrepresented in the roles and industries identified in the report as likely to see the most job openings in the future, such as in computing services (16%), architecture (10%), specialist construction (8%) and construction (13%).
Those figures are the bitter pill to swallow.
So what’s causing this? Moreover, what can be done to rectify it? Two words have a part to play: gender imbalance.
Gender inequality awareness needs to start in childhood
It appears that despite the continued growth in uproar around gender imbalance, the situation doesn’t seem to be improving. According to a 2014 study from the Tech Partnership, a network of employers working to create skills for the UK’s digital economy, the number of women working in the tech sector dropped from 17% to 16% in 2016. What’s more, that is a figure that’s been falling year for over 10 years now.
Sadly, I think that gender stereotypes still prevail and as such, could play a part in driving women away from STEM.
Take a very interesting 2016 study by Linda Carli, a researcher at Wellesley College, the leading US women’s liberal arts institution entitled, “Stereotypes About Gender and Science: Women ? Science.” The report casts light on how women scientists are perceived and how stereotypes could result in prejudicial treatment.
The paper shows that despite significant progress, women are still thought to lack the qualities needed to be successful scientists. The findings suggest this may contribute to discrimination and prejudice against women in those fields. For example, Carli’s research shows that ‘scientists are perceived as more “agentic” (e.g. risk-taking and competitive), and that these characteristics have the greatest overlap with how men are also perceived. Women are thought to be more “communal,” associated with qualities like helpfulness and kindness.’ She writes in the paper, “[T]he overall image of successful scientists appears to be one of exaggerated masculinity, but with fewer of the more negative qualities associated with masculinity.”
Shocking yes, but sadly I think it rings true. Stereotypes about women being ‘communal’ are not only still prevalent, but totally work against the idea that women can be successful scientists. Consequently this causes a damaging impact on women in the STEM discipline, either by turning them away altogether or else by not seeing them remain there.
Better careers’ advice in higher education
I know efforts are being made at all levels of the education system to encourage more girls to study Stem subjects but the clearest drop-out point seems to come when choosing a degree according to one report. At GCSE and A-level, 56% of men in IT studied Stem subjects, compared to 51% of their female peers – but at degree level, 60% of our male respondents took a Stem course, against 48% of women. In other subjects, the most notable gender difference is in social science, arts and language, studied at university by 22% of women in IT, against just 11% of men.
But is there another way to level the playing fields?
Yes, the Green Economy – and Renewable Energy in particular.
Green economy offers equal opportunities for women and narrows the wage gap
I think all learning institutions whether primary, secondary or further, as well as businesses, must really highlight the opportunities that prevail for women as the UK transitions from the brown to green economy.
Transforming our fossil-fuel economy to a clean-energy economy gives an unparalleled opportunity to make real headway in integrating male-dominated workplaces and reshape the trend. I think renewable energy is a sector which can be used to engage more women and as such, should be flagged to students in higher education. While many clean technology leaders come from the male-dominated oil and gas and utility industries, interesting research from Germany has suggested that women are more likely to be drawn to renewable energy because it serves a higher purpose of creating a sustainable environment for this generation and that of the future.
I mentioned earlier about women being perceived as too ‘communal’ to have a scientific mind-set and the suggestion that being communal is somehow ‘weak’. But “communal” is actually key to the new mind-set for sustainability that is shaping the way we work personally and professionally. The creation of shared value lies at the core of sustainable business strategies. So if “communal” is the way women think, then it’s the exact mind-set companies need for future success and should be lauded and extracted to the max.
#genderstereotypes #genderinequality #WomenRising #STEM
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