Women in STEM: Where are we at and where are we heading?

10 mins

Today is International Women’s Day. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the achievements o...

Today is International Women’s Day. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women, but also to recognise that women are still underrepresented (and underpaid) in many fields. And that includes the science, technology, engineering, and maths workforce.

Let’s explore STEM’s stubborn gender gap, and highlight some of the organisations working to create more balance.


How wide is the gap?

Pretty wide still. Underrepresentation begins in education, with fewer women than men choosing to study STEM courses. Figures from UCAS suggest that women make up roughly 35% of students studying core STEM subjects, although there is significant variation between subjects. In physical sciences and maths, women make up 39% and 37% respectively – which still isn’t ideal, but is much better than computer sciences and engineering, where women make up just 19%. 

What begins in education continues across the career lifecycle. Despite the fact that women make up nearly half the working population in the UK and US, we’ve a long way to go before they occupy 50% of STEM jobs. Around 16% of engineers are women, for example.  Just one in six tech specialists and one in ten IT leaders are women.  And less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women.  However, the picture is much brighter in life sciences and mathematics, where women make up 50% and 47% of workers respectively. 

Thankfully, the numbers are improving. The 16% of engineers who are women? In 2010 that figure was just 10%. The numbers are going in the right direction, then. Slowly.

It’s not just about getting more women to study STEM subjects and enter STEM professions. There’s also an awareness problem to address, with women (by and large) attracting less recognition than their male counterparts. Take, for example, the PwC report which found that 78% of students couldn’t name a famous female working in technology.  Meanwhile, many male tech leaders have become household names…


What’s more, women typically still earn less than men

When gender pay gap reporting was introduced in 2017, a staggering 90% of women were working for employers who paid them less than their male colleagues. Which goes to show exactly why we need gender pay gap reporting in the first place. The good news is this requirement for transparent reporting does seem to be having a positive impact on pay disparity. The average pay gap for all UK employees (not just in STEM companies) was 18% when reporting first began, and is now at 15.5%.

The average UK pay gap provides a useful comparison to specific STEM industries, where the pay gaps can differ wildly. Women IT engineers, for example, suffer a pay gap of 36%, while for biochemists the gap is 8%. Design and development engineers are the only ones to enjoy a 0% pay gap. 


The organisations working to change things

Those pay gap figures come from STEM Women, one of many organisations dedicated to addressing the gender imbalance in STEM, alongside institutions like the Women’s Engineering Society, Women in STEM, Women in Tech, Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code (to name just a few). These organisations – founded and run by women – play a vital role in encouraging women and girls to choose STEM courses and take up STEM professions.

They also engineer awareness campaigns to raise the profile of women in STEM. Campaigns like International Women in Engineering Day (held every 23rd June) and the annual Women in Tech Festival. Without campaigns and initiatives like these, female representation would face an even greater struggle. And that would be a missed opportunity, especially considering the huge skills gap in some STEM sectors. Employers are struggling to recruit across technology roles, for instance, so the more women we can encourage into STEM careers, the better for everyone.


What can we expect from the next few years?

Well, for one thing, we can expect intense scrutiny of the gender imbalance and gender pay gap to continue. But the organisations we mentioned (among other organisations) will also continue their practical work to attract more women into STEM careers. We’re looking at more education and awareness (talking to schoolchildren about STEM careers, for instance, and running tech bootcamps for girls), but also giving practical support to employers so they can improve their diversity strategies and attract more female talent. 

Is there a long road ahead? Sure. But we do seem to be moving in the right direction. Here’s hoping that on International Women’s Day 2033, we’ll be looking at some very different statistics indeed.

As specialists in engineering and technology recruitment, the Roc Search team is actively working with female candidates to find their next exciting career move. Check out our selection of IT, technology and engineering jobs.