Third of young women think a STEM career would be boring

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A significant proportion of young women are reluctant to enter STEM careers because of gender barriers, meaning UK employers are missing out on vital talent

More than half (53%) of young women are keen to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) but 78% are put off by perceived gender barriers, according to research from QA which surveyed 500 women aged 16 to 24.

When looking at the reasons for this incongruence, half (44%) said that an insufficient number of female role models or mentors deterred them. More than a third (37%) felt they would not have the same opportunities as a male colleague, and a third thought a career in STEM would be boring (33%).

Other reasons included not feeling confident enough in a male-dominated environment (29%), not understanding the careers available (29%), and feeling that such a career was more suitable for men (16%).

CEO of QA Paul Geddes said more work needs to be done to showcase the opportunities and the value of STEM careers to women and to break down and debunk outdated myths around careers in technology. He said the technology sector in particular is missing out on much-needed talent because of its diversity problem.

“Tackling this diversity challenge is high on the talent agenda for many tech firms – not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because doing so is critical to solving the tech talent shortage the UK faces,” he told HR magazine.

“The high average starting salary of tech jobs, and the increasing value employers in all sectors place on tech literacy make tech jobs a highly sought-after career choice. But at present millions of talented young women are being shut out. It’s a significant issue and it needs correcting.”

Geddes said employers should provide ongoing support for diverse groups throughout their careers. “First companies need to create an open and inclusive culture that helps fix the broken career ladder for under-represented groups. For instance, Cisco has created a series of internal support networks within its business designed to provide support and community to different minority ethnicity groups,” he said.

“Learning and professional development is a key part of this, ensuring individuals continue to realise their potential and grow within their profession, and is especially critical in the tech sector.”

He added that organisations must look beyond traditional sources of talent by offering apprenticeships and reskilling programmes. “Apprenticeships are an effective tool for reaching dynamic young talent, but are equally effective when used as a structured reskilling programme for existing employees. Similarly, intensive academies can reach out to diverse groups and quickly give them valuable technical skills,” he said.

“Crucially, these training options can help to bridge the diversity gap that extends back to university and school. By drawing from the entire workforce [employers are] able to bypass those educational discrepancies and bring some parity to the workforce.”

Further reading

Tech gender imbalance to last another 12.5 years

Closing the gender gap in science

Gender pay gap won't close until 2069 unless more girls study STEM

Male and female managers discriminate against female STEM candidates

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