When it comes to the number of women studying or working in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), it has long been known that women are vastly under represented. From an early age, young girls lack the confidence to pursue courses at GCSE or A-Level stage, even though they usually are academically capable of excelling in these subjects. This trend translates into a STEM workforce dominated by men.
Many companies and organisations however, are doing something to change this. The Facilitate4Me Change Practitioner of the Month award for January goes to… Flatiron School and Birchbox, for providing scholarships to help women study technology and engineering!
Flatiron is a coding school based online and in New York, whilst Birchbox is a female-founded beauty subscription company. Together, they launched the ‘Women Take Tech’ initiative, dedicating over $100,000 in scholarship funding to increasing opportunity for future female software engineers.
Birchbox co-founder Katia Beauchamp highlights the impact and consequences of “not enough women in tech” stating that “It’s common that one looks out at the world to examples in order to set their sights on something and envision their own career. The lack of examples in the workforce affects the ability to conceive of yourself pursuing a career in technology”.
She’s not wrong. In the U.S., just 25% of U.S. computer jobs in 2015 were held by women, whilst only 17% of Chief Information Officers at Fortune 500 companies were women as of 2015. This is despite the fact that 57% of professional occupations in the U.S. workforce in 2015 were held by women, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.
The situation in the U.K. is worse. As at 2015, women made up just 14.4% of the UK STEM workforce. It is accepted that the lack of female representation in the STEM workforce begins in the school classroom. A study published in 2015 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that ‘girls have less self-confidence than boys in their ability to solve mathematics or science problems. Girls – even high-achieving girls – are also more likely to express strong feelings of anxiety towards mathematics’. As a result, girls achieve worse results in mathematics and science than they otherwise would, despite outperforming boys overall.
Things are not all doom and gloom however. Compared to 2014 in the UK, there were 104,000 more women working in STEM in 2015 and 12,000 more women working as professional engineers (an increase of 45%). Furthermore, the number of women working in STEM management in the UK has increased by 25%, to 74,421.
Unlikely and inspirational support has recently come from Hollywood in the shape of the brilliant Oscar-nominated movie ‘Hidden Figures’, which documents the true but previously unknown story of three African-American female mathematicians, who worked at NASA during the racially segregated 1953 – 1962 era and were the brains behind the first American to orbit the earth.
Change has been a long time coming for women and STEM, but progress is being made. And with more positive initiatives like that created by Flatiron and Birchbox, there is every hope that there can be significant representation of women in the STEM workforce in the near future.