The stats are in and it’s looking good if you are thinking about a career within the realms of science. Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – or STEM – have increased dramatically over the last decade.
There’s been a 14 per cent increase in scientific services careers and 20 per cent in medicinal careers, leading to a demand for STEM students to fill those career gaps
It is not all great news though.
UK university application data, over the same period has recorded only one per cent increase in the number of female students studying STEM subjects.
In Computer Science and Engineering some years have even seen a decrease. Overall, women represent only around 25 per cent of students on STEM courses.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are all subjects deeply intertwined with each other, and each one is on the frontline for driving human innovation, which is why the number of women enrolling on STEM courses need to increase.
Studies show that women choose paths that diverge away from STEM careers very early on in their academic careers.
In 1983, a global study asking children to draw a scientist, only 24 per cent drew female scientists and these were all drawn by female students!
But why and how does this bias develop?
It starts from a young age; typically, young girls are given dolls and make up and are told to be gentle with their toys.
Contrast this with young boys who are given building blocks, tools and cars. They quickly learn the intricacy of building, of failing as they watch their towers fall over and of experimenting with robust new ways of doing things differently.
Their decision making and spatial analysis skills are challenged from an extremely young age.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects inherently rely on these skills with quick decision making, failure being inherent to success and problem solving by thinking out of the box.
The challenges continue with classroom dynamics; a high percentage of STEM teachers are male, and as students select their own subject choices, STEM classrooms can become predominantly male, creating an atmosphere that can alienate budding female scientists.
The trend exacerbates as data suggests a fall out of women in STEM from degree level to career; females form only 22 per cent of workers in STEM fields.
The way forward
So why do we care about women taking a STEM pathway?
The significant dominance of males in scientific fields, which has far reaching consequences.
For example, in a recent study by the American Heart Association, six out of 10 women said breast cancer was the most serious threat to their health, and only one in 10 said heart disease.
However, according to medical statistics, cardiovascular disease kills twice as many women as men but awareness of heart disease in women is woefully under reported.
Historically, new drugs have predominantly been tested on males, but this can have potentially disastrous effects for the female population.
Having women in STEM careers ensures a rebalancing of this representation and is key to guiding the direction of innovation and redressing the imbalance where currently half of the world is underrepresented.
Clearly, it is time for change so future History of Women Months feature more and more female role models within the sphere of STEM… after all, working out what the positive outcomes would be if that were to happen isn’t exactly rocket science, is it?
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