Research sheds new light to attract women to STEM careers

Jan 11, 2022 | Diversity

New research from STEM Women shows how to attract more women into STEM careers.

The latest Understanding the Gender Imbalance in STEM report from STEM Women uses data from autumn 2019, 2020 and 2021 to reveal new insights into the current STEM jobs market, gender issues in the workforce, the impact of the pandemic and how this has affected career confidence.

Using survey data from 557 STEM students and recent graduates who identify as women or non-binary studying at universities across the UK, it found that from 2019 to 2021 the percentage of respondents that see diversity initiatives as extremely or very important when accepting job offers rose from 74% in 2019 to 83% in 2020 and 89% in 2021.

A sense of belonging

One of the key themes that emerged from the report was the importance students place on feeling like they belong within a company. This highlights the importance of diverse workplaces that encourage employees to be themselves and feel welcome.

One respondent said: “I think they’re really important to reassure marginalised groups that they are valued and desired among employers. There have definitely been times that I have decided not to apply for a job because it doesn’t seem like somewhere that I would fit in. Diversity initiatives tell me that even if a company appears to be male-dominated, they are trying to address a gender imbalance and actively want women to apply.”

Cultivating a diverse employee population where everyone feels able to bring their best selves to work is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also better for business. However, as our respondents point out, it’s important that these initiatives have been properly researched and implemented. Students want to feel like they fit into a company, and feel supported.

The report also found that in 2021, 57% of respondents said they had suffered from or experienced imposter syndrome.

The respondents said that these feelings arose from not having a sense of belonging or feeling like the ‘odd one out’. For people to bring their best selves to work and perform at their peak, employees need to feel that they are welcome, which in turn will foster confidence.

Plamena works in computer hardware and software engineering. She said “Ever since I started pursuing a career in engineering I saw the difference in attitude towards me. I had often been subjected to joke and because of that, I was really questioning myself if engineering is the career I want to do. No person should ever question themselves, because of the ‘normalised’ opinions of the others.”

Importance of representation

One way in which employers can help students and graduates to feel as though they belong and boost their confidence in STEM careers is to increase representation.

The report found that from 2019 to 2021, the number of respondents who said that the gender balance of a company would influence whether they would accept a job offer rose 13% – from 54% to 67%.

Respondents highlighted that they were more likely to accept a job offer if they could see role models in prospective companies. Being able to connect over shared experience and feel that they can relate to other employees is very important to the students, especially those who identify as BAME.

Sayuri who works in product design and manufacture said: “Seeing women and women of colour in a company with high impact and leading positions is a good sign that the company gives those opportunities to women and so tells me that I will be able to have that opportunity too.” 

Career confidence

The report also found that when respondents were asked to measure how confident they were that they would have a successful STEM career after graduation, on a scale of 0 – 100, the average score was just 67%.

The report shows that many talented students and graduates have doubts about their future career prospects, despite having excellent qualifications and an enthusiasm for STEM industries. The report also revealed that students and graduates believe the biggest barrier to overcome in order to pursue their career path is strong competition, followed closely by lack of experience, and low confidence.

The pandemic has certainly impacted students and graduates during their job search, mainly limiting their opportunities for work experience and industry placements, as well as voluntary opportunities.

The report found that in 2020, 60% of respondents said that the pandemic had affected their future career prospects. In 2021, this number remained high at 59%. This shows that career prospects for students and graduates is still being negatively impacted by the pandemic, which may continue for years to come.

Despite companies moving a lot of recruitment and assessment centres online, students still expressed anxiety over working life now being completely online. In 2021, respondents said that lack of face-to-face interaction was negatively impacting their experiences.

STEM events

The study revealed that one of the key resources for employers to encourage more women into STEM roles is diversity focused careers fairs and events.

The report found that in 2019, 70% of respondents said they were more likely to apply to a company who had presented a live speaker session, this increased to 77% in 2021. This shows that respondents felt more connected to companies who shared personal career journeys and real stories from their employees.

Representation is a powerful tool when attracting and retaining female STEM talent. By visibly promoting and championing equality, a company’s reputation can be boosted, and a positive precedent is set.

From 2019 to 2021, the percentage of respondents who said that a STEM Women event had changed their mind about potential careers grew from 58% to 72%. Many highlighted that the events introduced them to new industries or roles that they had never heard of.

This is hugely encouraging for companies who occupy slightly lesser known areas of STEM, as it shows that event attendees are open-minded and willing to learn about these unknown avenues. Respondents said that career events boosted their confidence when apply for roles within STEM, with many saying they felt more at ease and welcome after hearing from company representatives.

Rebecka, a computer science graduate said: “Seeing women out in the industry in positions I could imagine myself being in five years has motivated me and given me a sense of; ‘I could do that too’”

STEM Women shared their findings and more in ISE’s Diversity and Inclusion Conference 2021

Read more research and advice on STEM careers

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