Do the Maths by Katie Wingfield Operations Director, Templeton & Partners.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man; the important thing is your determination.” Milka Duno, Race Car Driver
On the subject of what we collectively should or should not accept, I’m going to (attempt) to take on that meaty subject of the gender imbalance in STEM focused careers and subjects.
Let me start out-right by saying; I don’t have all the answers.
But the more and more I read and get involved around the gender gap evident in STEM related careers through my tech recruitment career; it is ever more evident that I don’t believe anybody actually does - irrespective of gender.
The fact still remains that the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths are and remain to be male dominated, regardless of many heroic, seismic, imaginative efforts to heighten accessibility and uptake, from grass-roots education level to work-place diversity programmes, around the world.
A few stark facts:
- 46% of women make up the UK’s workforce however only 13% have jobs in STEM related fields
- 17.2% of IT specialists/managers and 3.6% of IT directors are women
- The proportion of women receiving engineering or computer science degrees in the US actually fell between 2004 and 2014 - and the picture is similar around the world.
- Only 4 countries in Europe could claim to have at least 15% of all STEM graduates be female
- Even when women manage to get a STEM degree they are less likely to work in that field. According to the latest U.S. census, only 1 in 7 women with a degree in STEM actually works in that area – a fact which holds true for most countries.
Delving into this complex subject factor even deeper reveals the key influential factors around the STEM gender imbalance which jump out time and time again:
- Aspirations moulded by social norms and parental expectations
- Information failures that affect the decision to enter and stay in a STEM field
- Institutional factors that constrain women’s ability to enter a STEM job
From young girls growing up, to when they reach university age when they’re deciding which course to take, to what happens when they graduate and which career journey to assume!
So, sort of every key stage in their lives then, really!
Leaving me asking - what can each of us do to help solve this, so that plugging the STEM gap becomes a wide-reaching force that everyone is talking about?
For me, I’m going to start small and add from there (as maths was never my strong point).
Put 2 and 2 together
Recently at a neighbourhood street party (yes I live in ‘one of those streets’) I had my own revelation.
My neighbour has two young daughters, and the youngest at 14 happens to be a bit of a computer prodigy. In fact she wants to design her own app. In fact she thinks she wants to pursue a career in tech but she’s not sure what she would do!
So I put 2 and 2 together and offered to be her mentor. Que my tech networks opened up to her and staunch support was agreed. Yes I have been in recruitment for over 20 years and yes I have worked with a massively diverse bunch of men and women from apprentices to C-suite execs…..
…but it has never dawned on me to offer to be someone’s sole supporter; up until now.
We spent the next hour both getting more and more excited about her potential role in the fascinating world of Digital Transformation.
What stood out for me, amidst all this passion for technology lurked uncertainty (the lack of information factor at play perhaps?) about what she could actually do as a job in tech.
It brought back something one of the many inspiring ladies I met at a recent women in tech focused event said to me around her own experiences in IT:
“You will get knocked down, things are hard. However you may think things are hard for you. They’re not; they’re just hard.”
It doesn’t add up
“…at least some of the male-female disparity in tech could be attributed to biological differences.”
Not so long ago, an engineer at Google James Damore published a memo that was subsequently leaked that essentially suggested the very biological make-up of women pre-determines women less ambitious and more prone to “neuroticism”.
Damore was fired from Google as it was viewed as a violation of their code of conduct.
Many however agreed with the memo’s findings, with some suggesting it is just ‘plain science’.
Are we all a little bit guilty of this lazy prejudicing? Do we all think our global gender and pay gap in tech is on the whole or even partly due to biology?
For me, this long equation makes sense:
Positive influences from social norms – unknown parental expectations - information failures at higher education level - institutional failings (consciously or unconsciously) = less girls choosing STEM subjects + less women in STEM related careers = stalemate.
And the short equation: I think we all have a part to play to help influence, excite and support a diverse next gen of science, technology, engineering and maths ‘whizz-girls’.
I don’t have all the answers, but I think I can figure out this equation:
Diversity – Bias = Innovation