11th February 2019 is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, yet women make up only 16% of Australia’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) workforce. This is a problem. A big problem.
In a 2017 Australian study, women were found to make up less than a third of STEM university graduates, while the physics, astronomy and engineering industries presented even lower numbers. And if you consider that diversity in business is a strength, the lack of more women in STEM careers can skew towards a one-sided industry where difference is not apparent.
- Females make up fewer than 1/3rd of all STEM academic and research staff
- Only 17% of STEM professors are female, although around 40% of junior STEM academics are female
- Women currently make up only 9% of the construction workforce
- Women currently make up 15% of the transport workforce
Why are so few women in STEM careers?
- The perception that STEM careers (including construction) are regarded as male-dominated and many women are not drawn to this work.
- Family members tend to steer young girls away from STEM careers, guiding them towards the more ‘suitable’ careers such as arts, law, psychology or nursing, as examples.
- The higher up you travel in a STEM Organisation the fewer women there are. Many have left to have children (as in other industries), but fewer return leaving the sector one-sided with few opportunities for new input, differing perspectives and, potentially, women in leadership roles to challenge the norm
It pops up again – the issue of Gender Inequality
Statistics worldwide show that women remain under-represented in STEM roles and leadership positions. However, there are many reasons why having greater gender equality in these careers would be highly beneficial. While these reasons may seem obvious to many of us, scientific experiments give evidence that could help us close the gender gap once and for all.
Advantages of Women in STEM careers
The benefits of women in STEM careers (and to be successful in them) are no different from other sectors. Gender inequality is a huge problem in most countries around the world and, besides the economic disparity of men and women (men earn 17% more than women do even if they’re doing the same job), a lack of women in STEM roles brings huge disadvantages to businesses overall.
- Women are equally gifted to run and work in any business, regardless of the industry.
- Women tend to focus more on preserving relationships than men do. As successful business people know, ‘business is always about relationships’ – and, overall, women do relationships better.
- Women tend to be more collaborative in business. They tend to prefer to try and ‘work things out’, as opposed to walk away from resolving issues.
- They look at things differently. Adding more women to the executive levels of STEM Organisations invites different perspectives to a problem, for example. More women in senior positions would reduce the possibility of ‘group-think’ occurring.
- By having equal numbers of men and women in STEM careers, we can bring their differences together and create more effective teams and Organisations. This leads to greater collaboration and innovation, resulting in more engaged employees and, ultimately, organisations and society.
Counteract Bias against Women getting into STEM careers
- Gender bias, conscious or unconscious. An example is the belief that women are not as strong at math as men are.
- Organisations and recruiters to keep their biases in mind and take steps to correct them.
- Raise awareness about bias against women in STEM fields.
- Create clear criteria for success and transparency in the classroom and the workplace.
Like all other industries, if we are to take gender equality seriously and in all facets of business and society, more needs to be done to encourage and keep women in the STEM fields. There is a significant push in the construction industry in Australia to recruit more women into all areas of the industry, and more needs to be done in STEM in this regard.
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