Could more women in STEM roles solve the sustainability crisis?

Gender equity non-profit WISE thinks more women in STEM roles could fill the 250,000 new jobs provided by Johnson's 'green economy', but educational institutions and employers must get involved

WISE, a non-profit gender-equity services company that promotes female inclusion in the STEM world, ended its first of what will be a two-day virtual conference entitled: “Inclusive growth, transformative action and driving sustainability.”

The main takeaway was a call for “employers to build flexibility into the DNA of their policies to create different routes into STEM roles,” according to a statement.

With the government keen to rebuild and innovate the economy following COVID-19, getting more women into the sustainable STEM economy is the way forward, said WISE Chief Executive Kay Hussain.

STEM women and sustainability

The day’s theme was the need to leverage the government’s plan for a “green industrial revolution” to encourage the employment of more women in sustainable STEM roles where prime minister Boris Johnson has already laid out his plan to create 250,000 new jobs in the so-called green economy.

In 2019, WISE found that 1 million women “worked in core STEM roles,” now, it wants to see a 30% rate of female representation across these industries.

Speaking at the event, Hussain said: “There is a growing recognition that to be more sustainable, we must first be more equal. The correlation between diversity and improved business performance has been proven; just as with gender balance, we know that sustainability is a key driver for business success in today’s world, and we must embrace it together.

“We must engage young people, especially girls, and showcase the exciting and fulfilling opportunities available in sustainability-focused STEM. We need to leverage the enthusiasm and excitement that young leaders such as Greta Thunberg have inspired and show girls that STEM careers can really change the world. Many of the role models on our WISE platform – My Skills My Life – cite improving the world as their key driver.

“We also need to provide a platform for female leaders, showcase relatable role models, provide development opportunities and ensure that women have a voice and a seat at the table. These are all essential components if we are going to make a sustainable difference.

“We need a collaboration of the best possible talent at all levels to tackle the climate emergency we face. Sustainability impacts us all; we need everyone on board to work together to achieve a desirable outcome. A gender-balanced, diverse and inclusive workplace, which represents all parts of society, is now more important than ever before; without it, we will miss out on potentially game-changing talent.”

With Johnson’s “green industrial revolution 10 point plan” sitting along the government’s aim to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, STEM-sector women could indeed provide the workforce that’s needed to fill these sustainability-focused roles to take the country into a green future.

However, the lack of female role models and entrenched views about gender participation in STEM subjects means there aren’t enough women taking these subjects at school and university levels in order to qualify for STEM roles in the first place.

In order for female STEM talent to be the saviours of the UK’s sustainability problems, they need more guidance, advice, and support about entering the sector from schools, universities, employers, and the government too.

In terms of the demand set by WISE for employers to “create different routes into STEM roles,” this can happen if recruiters within the STEM industries have a more open mind about the transferable skills female professionals could bring to STEM industries from other sectors where retraining should be a key offering.

Day two of the WISE conference will take place on Tuesday 9 March, click here to find out more.
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