The number of women graduating in core STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects is increasing. Last year, the percentage of female STEM graduates rose from 25% to 26%, but this percentage is still a long way from being considered equal representation (WISE).
The absence of women in these sectors is hugely significant and we’re missing out on some valuable skillsets and opportunities because of it. There’s actually a huge skills gap in the heating and plumbing industry at the minute, meaning we’re in urgent need of more qualified tradespeople.
And, statistics would show that customers would actually prefer it if we did employ more women at our companies, with a third of homeowners saying they’d rather employ a female tradesperson (The FMB).
However, there must be a reason for the lack of women in these fields. And, if we can identify why, we can work to fix the problem. Here, I’ll be discussing just some of the ways we can attract more women into STEM positions.
Encourage STEM subjects from an early age
At primary school level, all STEM subjects are compulsory for both girls and boys, but in secondary school, only maths and science become mandatory for all students. Once we reach A-level and university, none of these subjects are compulsory.
When given the choice, girls are less likely to choose STEM subjects in higher education. Last year, only 39% of maths A-level students were female, and this number was even lower for physics students at just 22% (Institute of Fiscal Studies).
Our favourite subjects tend to be decided very early on in our school life, which means encouraging an interest in STEM subjects as soon as possible can help more young girls take them up later in their education.
We need to make female role models in this sector more apparent to young girls, giving them someone to look up to. We could do this by inviting female scientists and engineers into schools, but I also think having more female teachers in these areas could help to boost confidence levels in female students.
For businesses, this means we need to make ourselves available to attend school assemblies and career events. While we’re there, we need to give examples of how our work links to their current school curriculum. This will show these girls that they’re already capable of going into these sorts of areas.
Make your job adverts less masculine
But, it’s not only education that requires a bit of adjustment. Currently, the job market for these opportunities is a masculine one, which means we’re automatically putting women off these kinds of careers.
A major reason why companies are failing to attract female applicants, not just in STEM but in the wider world, is the language they’re using in their job adverts. Although you may not realise it, you could actually be making your roles far more appealing and appropriate for men rather than women.
Last year, the IT, engineering, science, and trade and construction sectors all showed a significant male bias in their job adverts (Adzuna).
This could be as simple as swapping the term ‘tradesman’ for ‘tradesperson’, but research conducted by the American Psychological Association found that words like “dominant”, “determined” and “strong” showed a significant male bias.
You should therefore try to make your phrasing as neutral as possible. If you have one, you should also make your diversity statement clear on your job descriptions and website to encourage a wider range of people to apply to your roles.
Make women feel welcome in these roles
The more women you hire at your company, the more female applicants you’re going to attract. This is because you’re not just telling women that they’re welcome, you’re actually showing them that they are.
Usually, the men in these industries are very welcoming to women in these sectors but being the new girl in an area mostly made up of men can be intimidating. So, make sure that your staff understand the importance of a diverse workplace.
We also need to provide all of our staff with the same opportunities. This means we need to give them equal roles and tasks and a fair chance at promotional opportunities, too. We should also be working hard to close the gender pay gap.
We need to show our female employees that their work is just as valuable as that of their male counterparts. This will not only attract more women to your STEM roles, but your staff retention will also be a lot greater.
Offer more flexible working hours
Another way that we can make these jobs more appealing to women is by giving them an opportunity for flexible working hours. In 2019, a lot of women are trying to balance a career and a family, and we need to accommodate for that.
The heating and plumbing sector is perfect for those with families, because jobs run on an appointment basis. It’s not just a normal 9–5 job either, because boilers break down all the time, meaning there’s demand for work at all hours.
This means that women can have full control over when they’re going to work. This is not something that many people consider with this area and we need to make this more well known to women who are juggling family life with work.
Attracting more women to STEM positions is important. Not only does it provide more equal opportunities for everyone, but it also broadens the skillset within your company. These four suggestions are just a start, but they’re a step in the right direction towards true equality.