Over the last few years, conversations have started opening up about gender inequality and discrimination faced by women in education and work. This is naturally a great first step, but there is a danger of creating complacency around the subject. In fact, acknowledging the International Day of Women and Girls in Science should only be the start.
We’ve all heard phrases along the lines, “that sort of thing doesn’t happen in 2022”. But women are still facing significantly greater obstacles than men in their academic and professional careers – none more so than in the Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths (STEM) sectors.
In fact, a recent study on the UK workforce found that within the science sector, the gender pay gap is still increasing. So, this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, what practical steps can we take to make meaningful progress for gender inclusivity?
International Day of Women and Girls in Science: talk it through
“Although women represent nearly half of the entire workforce today, they’re still massively underrepresented in the technology industry”, explains Ann Lloyd, VP Customer Success & Experience at Axway.
“Transformation is needed not only for the women working in technology now but also for the girls hoping to make their mark on the industry in the future. Creating a more female-friendly tech industry will require fundamental changes at the level of companies and employers, but also within the education system and the underlying assumptions that are still prevalent in society today.
“At Axway we champion the incredible women working with us and in our industry. We challenge businesses to join the discussion, to open the conversation up to their employees and share ideas on how we can improve as a sector and support women and girls who hope to enter the industry”.
Encouragement throughout education
For many women, by the time they are entering the workforce, the problem is already too deeply ingrained. The root of the issue starts while girls are still in education. Nicola Aitken, Microsoft Business Manager at Ascent, highlights, “studies have shown that gender stereotyping starts as early as primary school age where books and language begin to shape how girls and boys should think, look, and behave.
“They pick up cues from the language they hear, the images they see and the expectations placed on them. Their family and friends, the media and familiar settings such as their playgroup will all influence how children interpret gender. This has to change.
“A few years ago I supported a local primary school, alongside other parents, to raise funds to build a science lab, known as The Discovery Hub. As a result, all children within the school – and other schools in the area – had direct and easy access to science and technology. To my mind, it all starts at the grassroots level with our children”.
Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft, expands on this, “schools must continue to find new ways to keep girls engaged in STEM subjects, by providing the opportunity to build websites, learn to code or use robotic toys. By showcasing female role models, organising technology-related events and working with schools to find new ways to inspire students, businesses can also continue to encourage involvement.
“To play a full role in building the STEM workforce, businesses should also offer wider support to organisations that are working to ensure equal opportunities for girls and women. Code First Girls is one of a growing number of organisations that support young adult and working-age women, in their case, ‘to become kick-ass developers and future leaders’. Businesses that are committed to equality of opportunity in their technical teams can help promote inclusion and tap into the female talent pool by working with these like-minded organisations”.
Continuing into corporate
For the women who do overcome the obstacles they face in early education, it doesn’t necessarily get easier once they enter the workforce. Especially in the science and technology sectors, women are underrepresented, underpaid and notably less likely to hold managerial positions. Caroline Seymour VP, Product Marketing at Zerto, explains, “awareness and sensitivity to the gender gap issue is greater than ever. But there is still so much more to be done to change the industry’s culture, to close this gap and encourage more women into high tech jobs.
“Employers should make sure that they understand gender-balance data in their company, create gender-neutral job descriptions, ensure women are part of the interviewing team, ensure that interview rounds include diverse candidates, conduct regular pay equity reviews to attract and retain candidates, offer mentorship and advancement programs and lastly regularly evaluate hiring and promotion processes to eliminate bias.
“I have worked in the sector my whole career and its constant evolution continues to fascinate me. There were very few women in tech when I began my career, and while this has certainly increased over the years, sadly, it is still predominantly a male-dominated industry. There is most definitely a huge opportunity here for women, especially within the engineering, software, cybersecurity, cloud, and AI sectors”.
Implementing meaningful initiatives
Diane Murray, Manager UK&I Enterprise Application & DXP at Progress, furthers Seymour’s point, detailing some of the initiatives progress uses to encourage and empower women in the company. “We have a company-wide Employee Resource Group (ERG) – ‘Progress for Her’, created to empower Women at Progress. It provides leadership and networking opportunities, as well as the tools needed to create substantial influence both in and out of our professional network.
“The Women in STEM scholarship series was launched in 2019 with the founding of the ‘Progress Mary Székely Scholarship for Women in STEM’ in the US. The initiative has continued to expand, and in 2021 we introduced the Akanksha Scholarship for Women in STEM in India. It is a USD 2,000 four‐year renewable scholarship to cover tuition, fees and educational expenses for women pursuing an undergraduate degree in computer science, computer information systems, software engineering and/or IT. We want to encourage women to choose STEM for their professional development and bring more diversity to the workplace”.
“It is the responsibility of everyone with backgrounds in science and technology to be actively involved in making STEM subjects more accessible to women”, concludes Terry Storrar, Managing Director, Leaseweb UK. “This isn’t something that should simply be left up to an organisation’s Diversity and Inclusion committee. Businesses need to ingrain a sense of inclusivity and respect in their company culture and support relevant organisations where they can, such as BCS Women, who provide women within the IT industry with networking opportunities.
“Women are an integral part of any organisation, but there is still so far to come in terms of the gender gap within the STEM sector. To keep the UK technology and science industries flourishing, we can’t just come to the table with only the male half of the population. Technology is such a vibrant and exciting space to be in and it only comes alive when you have the innovation, ideas, input and direction from all, no matter of race, gender or age. The industry is opening doors, but obviously, we can always do more to help people walk through them with a culture that is welcoming to all”.