Women in STEM: Why Diversity Matters

By Dr Kristel Miller, Reader in Innovation and Strategy at Ulster University Business School
 
As we enter the cusp of the fifth industrial revolution, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) skills have never been more important.
 
However, there are significant STEM skills gaps across the globe, as technological advancement outpaces both the ability of the workforce to upskill and the number of graduates entering the workforce with STEM skills.
 
According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025 and 9 out of 10 jobs in the future will require digital skills.
 
To meet current and future skills requirements, there is an urgent need to attract more females into STEM occupations and help advance females into STEM leadership positions. There has been historical gender segregation in STEM due to a range of perpetuating factors and gender-based challenges. Only 25% of the STEM workforce are female (STEM Women, 2021).
 
Proposed solutions - is a STEM rebrand needed?
 
To bridge the gender gap in STEM, perhaps a rebranding is needed to tackle deeply ingrained visualisations of the ‘typical’ STEM worker and to challenge stereotypes of STEM work.
 
There is still an arbitrary stereotype associated with STEM work, associating it as a masculine career trajectory which can lead to unconscious bias. This can influence uptake of female students in STEM subjects and the attractiveness of STEM careers for female career-changers.
 
The reality is that the creative sector, transport, health, sports, fashion, energy, construction, food and agriculture all have a high demand for STEM skills and careers are more creative and varied than previously portrayed.   
 
Greater awareness is needed of how STEM occupations require more than just technical skills. Covid-19 has taught us that soft skills such as creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, management and leadership are essential in navigating change.
 
At the core, there is a need for more visibility of diverse female role models, who enter STEM from different career trajectories and have different skills, to demonstrate that STEM is a career for all.
 
Part of Ulster University Business School’s (UUBS) efforts to increase the pipeline of diverse talent in STEM careers are evidenced in programme development. For example, the ‘So She Did’ initiative - a female entrepreneurship programme - has opened doors for students wishing to enter the tech industry, with several participants setting up tech businesses after completing the programme. Furthermore, multi- disciplinary subjects are built into many programmes at UUBS, including the MSc Business in Technology, International Business with Data Analytics MSc and MSc International Accounting with Analytics.
 
More funding and support is needed now to accelerate targeted interventions to help close the UK’s STEM skills gap. The future of the UK’s competitiveness is reliant upon it!