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Why Are There Not More Women In STEM?

The science and maths based industries have a real diversity issue

4Aug

Women are hugely underrepresented in science, tech, engineering, and maths (STEM) jobs. While women make up approximately 40% of the total global workforce, they are a minority in these areas, constituting as little as 20% of the IT industry and just 13% of all STEM occupations. A 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce found that, perhaps most tellingly in terms of gauging the desire to rectify the situation, women have seen no employment growth in STEM jobs since the turn of the millennium.

The cause of this gulf is difficult to pinpoint. Many connect it with the endemic sexism that exists among the sort of so-called ’geeks’ that are traditionally associated with STEM, in much the same way as the gaming industry. This does not explain why women with STEM jobs earn roughly 33% more than comparable women in other industries though. This is considerably higher than the STEM premium for men, which means that the gender wage gap is actually smaller than in other jobs.

It is likely, however, that the problem begins far earlier, with maths and science seen as more ‘masculine’ subjects, and girls perhaps lacking the necessary encouragement in school to apply themselves in these fields. The media also has a great deal of responsibility for the situation, with shows like The Big Bang Theory and Beauty and the Geek among the many to perpetuate the idea that STEM is the sole preserve of men.

Kjersten Moody, Unilever’s Vice President of Information and Analytics, argues that one solution could come from analytics. Moody reasons that analytics is multidisciplinary, and does not require specific STEM related education and experience. The skills necessary for analytics can come from people who do humanities and other research related subjects that more women tend to do at university, and they can then use analytics as a springboard into the IT industry. Even people mid-career can go back and look again at an area they may not have previously considered. At a recent conference, she challenged delegates to to think about analytics as a new paradigm inside of this industry that is multidisciplinary and that is attractive to a wider range of core subject matter expertise than we had traditionally considered inside of technology fields.

Companies that fail to hire women are losing out in a number of ways, particularly in regard to innovation. Research from Gartner found that 85% of Fortune 500 enterprises would be unable to effectively exploit data this year due to the skills gap in analytics. The greater the diversity of the workforce, the greater the breadth of ideas that can drive value for an organization. Ann Watson, CEO of Semta, the employer-led skills organization is working with Jayne Little of Skills4 Ltd to provide training and coaching on gender diversity, argues that, ‘if everyone on a team is the same, they’re less likely to innovate, to challenge and to ask why don’t we do this another way?.’

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