Dearth of female STEM students fuels skills gap

More female role models in the STEM industry are needed to plug the gender and skills gap at work

The lack of women teaching and studying STEM subjects has had an impact on the gender and skills gap in related sectors reveals a new study.

Penned by global cybersecurity company CrowdStrike, it shows that while some UK universities are trying to fix the gender gap in STEM courses, female numbers are still low. On computer science courses, women-only account for 13% of undergraduates.

More women means better courses

Among the universities trying to plug the STEM course gender gap is Aberystwyth University. The welsh institution is the most gender-inclusive department in the UK, where 33.3% of the teaching and research staff are female. This is followed by the University of St Andrews in Scotland (33.1%) and London’s King’s College (31.9%.)

The study also shows that gender diversity across university STEM subjects is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes the departments perform better.

Out of the 10 most gender-diverse computer science departments in the UK, 40% are in the top 10 most highly rated overall. Furthermore, Aberystwyth is the most gender diverse computer science course provider in the UK. In terms of overall student performance, it ranks highly in 22nd place out of 110 schools nationwide. These statistics show that diverse representation, including an array of different perspectives, can lead to more improved results in education as well as in the workplace.

While these universities showcase some promising figures when it comes to the presence of female staff and students on STEM courses (which is 1.4% higher than female representation in the United States), numbers remain low in relation to men.

Low female representation and the STEM economy

The gender inequality in STEM-related university courses leads to a skills gap in the workplace, making the lack of female representation in this sector an economic and social equality issue.

The low numbers of women in these courses mean fewer land jobs in the commonly well-paid STEM sectors that include IT and engineering. For example, statistics on the demographic makeup of British engineers in 2018 found that only 12% were women.

Cybersecurity is another STEM sector experiencing a gender hiring gap where only 15% of the current workforce are female. However, there is also an opportunity for women to upskill themselves and excel in this world as the sector faces a skills gap according to a recent government report where two-thirds of firms have faced difficulties hiring for technical roles.

The value of female role models

There is no doubt that the STEM subject gender gap at universities has contributed to the gender and skills gap in related industries. However, growing female participation in university courses should help to close it eventually.

Crucial to this will be the presence of role models in universities to encourage the next generation of female school leavers to pursue degrees and then careers in these sectors. Moreover, female role models within academic staff make women over 50% more likely to pursue a career in STEM fields, according to a Microsoft study. But as the current statistics show, more has to be done to encourage women into these pathways before things can improve.

Commenting on his firm’s report, J.C Herrera, Chief Human Resources Officer at CrowdStrike, said: “It’s encouraging to see universities in the UK increasing female role models in the Computer Sciences to inspire the next generation and help to address the growing skills gap in technology disciplines.

“Alongside the initiatives being delivered in higher education to improve female representation in STEM, the private sector must play a pivotal role too by partnering with trailblazing organizations and charities, as well as offering scholarships and innovative apprenticeship schemes. If we want to continue driving our industry forward, we must address these inequities.”
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