A-levels results are declared across the UK today. We asked a series of experts, what the stats tell us about the future of diversity in STEM? And what are the implications for an economy increasingly reliant on STEM skills?
The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) published the results of GCE “A” level exams in the UK sat across all exam boards. The following stats show the numbers of exams sat by gender in STEM subjects.
2018 Female – 0.3%
2018 Male – 2.5%
2017 Female – 0.2%
2017 Male – 2%
2018 Female – 0.4%
2018 Male – 1.1%
2017 Females – 0.5%
2017 Male – 1.4%
2018 Female – 1.9%
2018 Male – 8.1%
2017 Female – 1.7%
2017 Male –7.7%
2018 Female – 8.6%
2018 Male – 16.2%
2017 Female – 8.2%
2017 Male –15.5%
2018 Female – 1%
2018 Male – 3.2%
2017 Female – 1%
2017 Male – 3.1%
They show a clear gender gap – with a low number of girls taking ICT/IT and other STEM A–levels. We asked experts from across the STEM industries to give us their insights into what these stats are telling us about the future of diversity in STEM.
Coding could play a role in encouraging more girls to take IT and STEM A-levels
Once again, the number of girls taking IT and STEM A-levels is very low. For this to change, schools need to step up. Coding should become mandatory for all students. This will go a long way to defusing the myth that STEM is for boys. Coding is great because it develops different parts of the brain. Even if children don’t go on to study STEM subjects, coding will still be useful from a skills perspective – particularly as the workplace becomes more reliant on technology. The biggest block to making this change will be teachers. Some teachers are unconsciously biased about girls and STEM. Many will also not have the skills to teach coding themselves. But this is a change that must happen; teachers need to adapt. If nothing changes, we’ll continue to see an imbalance in A-level percentages year after year. To be something, you need to see something. These results are reflective of the lack of female role models in technology and STEM as a whole. The field is male dominated. Young girls often feel like they don’t have a place in STEM, so they don’t choose these A-level subjects. To make a change, we need women who have climbed up the STEM ladder to showcase themselves and their career choice. They need to show young girls that working in STEM is cool and rewarding and that women belong in the industry. Girls need to be inspired to choose IT and other STEM A-levels. With a lack of female role models in STEM, they are only being put off.
The implications of girls not taking STEM A-levels
It’s disappointing to see we are still struggling to balance the STEM divide. Young women should not be afraid of pursuing careers in the tech industry – it’s challenging, exciting and offers tremendous opportunities. The world is changing fast, and we need to change with it. Out-dated stereotypes mean many young women will be missing out on the chance to develop skills in areas they are really passionate about. This needs to change. Schools, parents and universities all need to do more to ensure young women have the support and encouragement to confidently pursue training and careers in STEM fields.
Women must be creators as well as consumers of technology
Though it’s good to see the gender gap closing in some areas of STEM, there’s clearly still a way to go. As technology becomes ever more pervasive, if women are only consumers of those technologies, rather than creators of it, they won’t have the same say in how we live our lives. With more women working in STEM we will have technology that addresses a more diverse set of needs. Technology that is in balance with society. Moreover, today’s tech companies are looking for multi-disciplined teams. The designers as well as the developers; those who understand how people use technology and can make it work better for the user. It’s the whole range of skills, the whole brain, that’s needed to make the biggest difference for society and business. Young women and girls out there should know that the tech industry is very varied. It’s in every aspect of our lives from fashion to environment to medical advancements and space travel. So whatever impact you want to have in the world there’s a career in tech that will support you.
Engineerings image problem
There has been a small increase in the number of female students taking A Level maths and physics this year, compared to the numbers taking the exams last year. However, males still outnumber females taking these subjects – three times as many males took A Level physics exams this year compared to females. This reflects the research we recently conducted which highlighted a stark difference between boys and girls considering careers in STEM. It found that just 26% of girls are looking to pursue a career in STEM compared to 43% of boys which could dramatically impact the diversity of fresh young talent coming into the sector. Engineering in the UK suffers from a huge image problem. The research and the gender split of those taking A Levels in maths and physics backs up fears that gender stereotyping within STEM careers is alive and well, potentially damaging the diversity of talent coming into the industry.
Without a diverse workforce, UK prosperity will suffer
Although it’s promising to see girls are taking more A levels in science, computing and mathematics, it’s clear more still needs to be done to encourage the uptake of STEM subjects/roles all the way through university and into the workplace. A shortage of enrolment in university subjects could be partly due to a lack of awareness of the opportunities that exist, and quite often the flawed perception that some groups, such as women, don’t belong in STEM professions. From policymakers to public and private organisations, and even parents, we all have a responsibility to encourage the uptake of STEM subjects among the next generation. It’s important that organisations across the board join forces to encourage all students—girls as well as boys—to take up STEM subjects, helping them understand the positive impact this knowledge will have on their lives and future careers. Studying computer science can lead to a career in design for example – or even technology marketing or management of a business division. As we fast progress towards a ‘digital first’ nation we need to ensure we are investing in both girls and boys at the very beginning of the digital journey and developing the right skills to support the future digital economy. After all, with 70 per cent of women aged 16 to 64 in work, organisations that fail to foster a whole group of talent properly in the workforce will prevent the UK from seeing a prosperous economy.
Respect, role equality and remuneration
As it stands today everyone can promote women in STEM. We need to motivate our sisters, daughters and wives to gain higher education and aspire for executive roles! Companies who aspire to gender parity and equality need to incorporate 3 R’s in their corporate blueprint: respect, role equality and remuneration for women. Every team or organisation should have a healthy mix of men and women. Salary and promotion criteria should be the same for men and women, and equal opportunity promotions should exist to promote from within a diverse pool of prospective candidates.