Education, encouragement and empathy: International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2022

In celebration of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, industry experts explored the ways in which we can encourage gender equality in STEM

The discussion of women’s representation in all levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines has been ongoing for decades. Whilst we are seeing increasing numbers of women in this field, less than a quarter of the STEM workforce are female. This disparity can be traced back to education – although there was a 5.79% increase in female students taking STEM subjects in 2021, male students still significantly outweigh female students.  

International Day of Women and Girls in Science was established by the UN to push for equal access and gender equality within the male-dominated sector. We spoke to a range of industry experts to learn more about how to encourage gender equality in all areas from educational settings to board rooms.

What’s the point?

There are many days that seek to raise awareness for gender equality, but each one is as important as the next. There are never too many opportunities to encourage women into the industry and remind organisations of the need to campaign for gender equality.

“Although women represent nearly half of the entire workforce today, they’re still massively underrepresented in the technology industry,” begins 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.” 

“In my 20-plus year career in science and technology, I have experienced inequality first hand,” reveals Branka Subotic, principal data consultant at Ascent. “I have been in situations where the correct things were said, but not really acted on. It is merely paying ‘lip service’ to diversity, with genuine action still missing. This needs to change.”

Caroline Seymour VP, product marketing at Zerto, also shared her experience as a woman in the industry: “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.”  

Step up

Businesses have a huge role to play in closing the gender gap that currently exists in the STEM workforce. Simple steps can make a huge difference.

“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,”  Seymour adds “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 regularly evaluate hiring and promotion processes to eliminate bias.”  

Diane Murray, manager UK&I Enterprise Application & DXP at Progress, discusses what they do to encourage and empower women: 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 best way we can support the drive for more girls and young women to take on Science is by providing them with role models of women that have thrived in a STEM role, setting the example and highlighting that they can do it too. Organisations of all sizes have a part to play in this by reducing barriers to entry and understanding the importance of diversity and inclusion, allowing more women to build careers in this area – especially in senior-level positions. Businesses in all sectors ought to also better support women in the workplace by combatting gender-typical expectations on their male colleagues, normalising shared parental leave, flexible and remote working for male employees and having more balanced expectations on typical familial roles Stacey Taylor, learning design director at DeltaNet International

“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.” 

Samantha Thorne, head of people at Node4 adds that their talent strategy is “underpinned by a focus on the retention and development of women already working within our organisation, through participation in leadership programmes and ensuring our policies, benefits and culture continue support women’s full participation in the workplace. Empowering women to innovate and lead in the sector and increasing the number of female role models in senior positions, maximises the impact of initiatives undertaken at the other end of the talent pipeline, where our engagement with local schools and colleges provides work experience and placement opportunities to GCSE and computer science students, recognising the role our industry has to play in keeping girls and women engaged in STEM subjects, helping them to imagine the possibilities and career paths available to them, and realise their potential.”

Engage and encourage

Whilst it is important to support women in employment, the key to closing the gender gap in the long term is engaging girls in science from an early age and encouraging them to begin and progress their careers within the industry.

“It’s no coincidence that while most girls show some interest in STEM subjects at 10 or 11 years of age, this tends to wane by age 15,” states Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft. “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.” 

“We all need to invest in the next generation: in my opinion, talking about diversity to university students is too little too late,” urges Branka Subotic, principal data consultant at Ascent. “We need to engage with young people early on and educate them in the ‘art of the possible’ when it comes to their future life – both personal and professional. This means encouraging them to meet and engage with people from different cultures and backgrounds, and present them with really interesting applied sciences courses and jobs within STEM. This combined approach will inspire them to consider different career paths and prospects.”

As Hugh Scantlebury, founder and CEO at Aqilla, points out: “We wouldn’t have had such success with the Covid vaccines without Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert who led the AstraZeneca research and development programme. 

“With inspiring women like Dame Sarah to look up to, we can expect – and hope – to see this skills base continue to grow in the UK from GCSE up to graduate and post-graduate level. But it’s not just about academic success. We also need to champion women who have a natural affinity for science-based subjects, but don’t have formal academic qualifications — and support them in their prospective careers. There’s more than one path to success in this sector, and we need to make sure that we’re open to them all.” 

Show your support

This International Day of Women and Girls in Science, everyone should step up and pledge to be an ally for women in this male-dominated industry. As Terry Storrar, Managing Director, Leaseweb UK concludes: “It is the responsibility of everyone with backgrounds in science and technology to be actively involved in making STEM subjects more accessible to women. 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.”

You might also like: Increased visibility and celebration of women in STEM will drive global innovation

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