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OU research reveals women's interest in STEM

New poll reveals appetite for STEM roles amongst women but highlights perceived barriers

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | November 12, 2016 | Business

A new consumer poll from The Open University (OU) has revealed a strong appetite amongst women for lucrative careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM).

However, the poll also identifies a number of barriers including a lack of direction at school and recognisable role models as well as a perception that the industry is male-dominated.

According to the figures, half (49%) of UK women now wish that they had pursued a STEM related career. Over half (56%) of women questioned said that growing up, they weren’t made aware of the value of STEM related subjects and consequently didn’t know enough about the career opportunities available. In addition, the phrase ‘male-dominated’ was most frequently used when asked to describe STEM industries. 

Further perceived barriers to women pursuing well-paid STEM careers highlighted by the poll include lack of communication between schools, colleges and the workplace and a dearth of female role models.

Three in five millennials (60%) feel there needs to be stronger links between the education sector and the workplace to encourage more women into STEM, whilst a huge nine in ten women were unable to identify a female STEM entrepreneur or high profile woman working in the stem sector, such as Kathryn Parsons or Sheryl Sandberg.

More needs to be done by schools and businesses to support women within the STEM sector  – after all, a balanced workforce will contribute towards the important growth and success of the UK’s STEM industries

Martha Lane Fox is Chancellor of the OU and leader of Doteveryone, an organisation which aims to understand and address the new set of moral and social challenges that have arrived with the internet, in order to help make life fairer and simpler for everyone in the UK. She said: “An increased number of successful women in high paid STEM related careers would go far to help rectify the gender pay gap issue. The 2015 WISE Women in STEM workforce report stated that women make up just 14.4% of the UK’s STEM workforce. So while it’s encouraging to hear of an appetite amongst women to pursue STEM related careers, it is equally disappointing that women are being held back due to a lack of direction at school, an absence of role models and the industry’s continued male dominance.  

"More needs to be done by schools and businesses to support women within the STEM sector  – after all, a balanced workforce will contribute towards the important growth and success of the UK’s STEM industries.”

Dr Clem Herman, Senior Lecturer at the OU in the Department of Computing and Communications said: “Analyses of the pay gap indicate that it is mainly caused by structural issues, in particular where and how men and women work. Key contributors to this pay gap include occupational segregation where women and men tend to work in different occupations and sectors, and the jobs in which men work tend to have higher wages with STEM being one of these sectors. The other is different working patterns. This is where women are more likely to work part time and the hourly rate for part time jobs is usually lower regardless of the sector. Periods of working part time can be interpreted as not being serious about career and women often get passed over for promotion or for career developing opportunities. 

Periods of working part time can be interpreted as not being serious about career and women often get passed over for promotion or for career developing opportunities

"However, the good news for women STEM graduates is that jobs in STEM occupations tend to be higher paid. In fact the pay gap is smaller within these STEM sectors compared to non-STEM sectors and overall women working inSTEM industries tend to earn more than women in other sectors. 

"Many STEM employers are actively trying to recruit more women – they see the benefits of diversity for their profitability, and as a way to fill skills gaps. A number of companies now run Returnship programmes for women who want to return to STEM after career breaks – like internships but for mature entrants who want to refresh their skills. So it’s a great time to start or get back into working in STEM and may even help to reverse the gender pay gap!" 

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