Gender and STEM: Breaking barriers

In recent times we have seen an added push, particularly during early years education, in getting children to go into STEM subjects following school. The issue is however, despite the fact science, technology, engineering and maths, is open to everyone, there exists connotations around it of male dominance.

The impression from outside the industry is one that has stuck for many years — manual labour, long working hours and rows of assembly lines. A survey carried out by Women in Manufacturing (WiM) found that almost three quarters of women would not consider a career in manufacturing as a viable option.


How do employers get women to come to these jobs? It may seem like a fairly complex task to sell the industry to women, however, what will attract women to coming to such jobs? In order to want to fill a job yourself, you must be able to envisage yourself in it first. For a woman, looking at a male dominated industry, it is virtually impossible for them to do so. Therefore, to encourage more women, companies need to have more women — starting at the top.

Despite the number of female executive directorships remaining the same between 2017 and 2018, discovered through a report by the FTSE 100, directorships have in fact rose from 294 to 305, a gain of 1.3%. Out of these 100 companies, those in the construction and building sector only featured twice.

In regard to women working in engineering roles, the UK has one of the lowest staff percentages, with Cyprus having almost three times the number of women in similar roles.

This article will focus on women’s relationship with the STEM and manufacturing industries.


The Shine Theory

Entering the workplace for the first time can be a difficult experience for anyone, but for a woman starting off in a new role surrounded by mainly men — well the aforementioned stats speak for themselves. This is where Shine Theory comes into play and it carries significant relevance to women trying to crack the heavily dominated male industries.

The theory of shine, which emphasises the inroads which can be made in regard to female success if they were to befriend other females in the work place, as opposed to battling against them. Effectively, this American concept emphasises how surrounding yourself with positive and successful women will create a positive atmosphere within.


Early development

In 2018, a Guardian study discovered that women constitute only 14.4% of all people working in STEM in the UK, despite the fact they make-up almost half of the work force. The best way of encouraging this, is to establish more prominent idol like figures within these subject areas. Take for example Brian Cox, it is easier for young boys interested in getting into physics to relate to him. Alternatively, Donna Strickland as physicist from Canada, became only the third woman ever to win the Nobel Prize award for her science. Her name, along with others who achieved spectacular heights needs to be promoted throughout kids of a young age.

In 1918 women over the age of thirty earned the right to vote, while women being accredited for such contributions to science as Donna Strickland, is certainly a recent development. In 100 years, incredible advancements, which of course where necessary, have been made.



When assessing why more women are moving into the industry, the first point to consider is how much on an untapped one it is. A 2016 survey found how manufacturing had the largest pool of untapped talent, simply because there were very few women in the roles previously. Not only is there an abundance of female staff available, they are also highly qualified, most possessing not only a bachelor’s but a supplementary master’s degree.

Simply due to their gender, 51 per cent of women who are employed within this area have commented on how they have been treated worse, creating a negative aura particularly for young women looking to enter the industry. This moves away from stereotypes however and into a dangerous position of discrimination. Women being in these roles has proved to be beneficial not only in plugging the gender gap, but also for the company’s profitability themselves. Research suggest that every 10 per cent increase in gender diversity relates to a 3.5 percent increase in gross profit.

Marci Bonham, the Managing Director of Hilti has suggested, ‘that by supporting women as they take their first management steps within the industry a positive impact overall will be created.’



Apprenticeships have started to see an increase in popularity once again, with many younger people choosing not to head down the traditional degree route. The statistics for the sectors women are choosing to carry out apprenticeships in doesn’t bode well in supporting this plug of the gender gap. Subject areas including learning support, travel services, and beauty therapy, all had 80% or more female applicants. On the other hand, vehicle maintenance and repair, gas industry, and construction skills all had below 10%.

Two companies looking to increase the number of female apprentices in their schemes are Lookers and British Gas.


British Gas

By placing a particular emphasis on success stories of previous women which have worked for the energy provider, British Gas, has succeeded in boosting women to apply for their apprenticeship scheme. They similarly draw upon the fact, that by putting more women into male dominated apprenticeships, the gender pay gap is likely to be bridged.



In 2018, the national motor retailer, who launched their female apprentice network, was voted as one of Centrica’s Top 100 employers. The scheme, launched by the Ford Transit Custom dealership, is based around setting up regular meetings between female apprentices, providing them with the opportunity to share their new-found knowledge and experiences.


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