The gender gap in STEM: How can we combat this?

Photograph by: Wikimedia Commons

Manual labour, long working hours, and rows of assembly lines are what is stereotypically pictured by people looking from the outside in on the industry. So much so that 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.

Unsurprisingly, this highlights that there has been a stereotype for centuries regarding the science, technology, engineering, and maths industries, or STEM industries. Perhaps this is the main reason why there are still low numbers of females in the industry.

While it may appear to be a complex task in order to sell the industry to women, there are ways to attract women to such jobs. To fill a vacancy, candidates must be able to envisage themselves in the job they are applying for. For women 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.

In Europe, the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineer professionals. In fact, countries such as Cyprus having nearly three times as many women in similar roles. This article will focus on women’s relationship with the STEM and manufacturing industries.

In contrast to this however, the FTSE 100 was able to report an increase in female held directorships in 2018. Despite the number of female executive directorships remaining the same between 2017 and 2018, directorships rose from 294 to 305, a rise of 1.3%. Out of these 100 companies, those in the construction and building sector only featured twice.

The Shine Theory

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.

Unfortunately, over half (51%) of women employed within this area believe they are treated differently just because of their gender. However, this moves away from stereotypes and dangerously close to discrimination. Women in these roles have proven 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. Hilti’s Managing Director, Marci Bonham, thinks that ‘supporting women as they take their first management steps within the industry will have a positive impact overall'.

The Shine Theory carries significant relevance to women trying to crack the heavily dominated male industries. The workplace can be a hard place for anyone starting new, but for a woman starting off in a new role surrounded by mainly men — the aforementioned stats speak for themselves.

This theory looks at how much women can succeed if they befriended other females in the work place, instead of battling against them. Effectively, this American concept emphasises how surrounding yourself with positive and successful women will create a positive atmosphere within.

Development from an early age

A study by the Guardian in 2018 discovered that women constitute only 14.4% of all people working in STEM in the UK. This is 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.


For those looking for a career within such a practical subject, apprenticeships may be the most popular route to take. 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 of these subjects had 80% or more female applicants. On the other hand, vehicle maintenance and repair, the gas industry, and jobs requiring construction skills all had below 10%.

Here, we look at two companies who are pushing to increase their number of apprenticeships who are female:

British Gas

British Gas pushed for more women to enrol onto their apprenticeship scheme by offering examples of applicants with examples of some of their highest achieving female members of staff. They similarly draw upon the fact that by putting more women into male dominated apprenticeships, the gender pay gap is likely to be bridged.


The national motor retailer, who sell the Ford’s Transit Connect, launched its female apprentice network last year. The scheme 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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