Closing the gender gap in STEM: What we need to do today
Author: IntaPeople | Date published: 22/01/21
It is well-documented that women are underrepresented in STEM fields; due to several social factors women are deterred from STEM subjects at secondary school, undergraduate and postgraduate education. Those women that do pursue the STEM professions often exit the field throughout the course of their career and very few make it to senior positions.
In our recent report, The Great Gender Rebalance: Increasing gender diversity in STEM businesses, we explored how gender-coded language in STEM job adverts could be one factor contributing to the gender gap in STEM fields.
This simple – and in all likelihood innocent – oversight could be the key to redressing the gender balance in STEM fields and is a tangible aspect that every employer can address in their own efforts to operate equality and diversity-driven organisations.
Why is there still gender inequality in STEM fields in 2021?
Gender inequality is still an issue today because of a wide range of factors:
Gender gap in STEM education
According to UCAS, just 35% of STEM students in higher education in the UK are women. This could be due to traditional concepts of the ‘scientist’ as a man in a white coat, male engineers and coding stereotypes influencing young girls to choose humanities subjects at A-level and then at university rather than science.
A lack of female STEM role models
Linked to the concepts outlined above, it must be difficult for young girls to imagine themselves in STEM when there are very few female role models to look up to. History is populated almost entirely with STEM-men, but very few women are venerated then or today for their contribution to STEM fields. Even today, women make up just 22% of the STEM UK workforce.
Un/conscious bias in the workplace
Bias undoubtedly plays a big part in the gender gap when it comes to STEM. Whether unconsciously or consciously, hiring managers always carry bias when they recruit which can impact the language they chose to write job adverts, how the perceive candidate CVs and even how they approach interviews. Some of the most impactful unconscious biases experienced when recruiting include:
- Confirmation bias, a tendency to find ways to justify new information so that it confirms existing beliefs and assertions. Often a small feature on a CV will colour the reader’s opinion of them and then all interview questions will seek to confirm that opinion or belief.
- The halo effect, is when your first impressions create a favourable perception of a candidate’s ability to the job well. This can lead to unqualified but charming individuals getting jobs that others would be more suitable for.
- Personal similarity bias, a preference to interview and hire people who most closely resemble your own professional CV, or educational background.
5 steps to take to close the gender gap in STEM:
While we know the gender gap in STEM won’t be fixed overnight, we’re confident that the more employers take responsibility to address these factors by following the steps below, slowly but surely gender equality will be achieved in STEM.
Assess your company culture
Taking a look at the current gender and diversity fall out within your company and how this impacts your culture is a great starting point. It will allow you to assess whether your company has a reputation of inequality that may be affecting the diversity of your job applicants.
Create a diverse hiring team/panel
Having women and people of different social backgrounds will help combat personal similarity bias and get a range of opinions and viewpoints as you put together a job add, review CVs and interview.
Many organisations may just use one hiring manager and not have the resources or time to create an entire panel of diverse colleagues, but even asking a few different people to check over the advert or look at a couple of CVs will give you access to a more balanced perspective on candidates.
Assess the language used in your job ads
Writing a job advert for STEM can be a challenging task at the best of times, but try to stay clear of particularly feminine-coded words that might be considered nurturing, caring and collaborative, for example: ‘support/ing’, ‘together’, ‘connect/ing’ and masculine-coded words that are more assertive, individualistic and ambitious, for example: ‘challenge’, ‘autonomy’, ‘confident’.
Examine the core needs of the role and use the simplest language to describe it, avoiding words like ‘scientist’ which is perceived as very masculine in the STEM community.
Invest in some diversity training to educate against bias
Providing proper, ongoing education and training about unconscious and conscious biases about race, gender, religion, etc., to your hiring team will help to widen your candidate pool with different experiences and perspectives, giving women a fairer chance at your STEM roles.
Engage a recruiter to ensure your recruitment process is fit for diversity and inclusion purposes
Engaging a specialist STEM recruiter, like IntaPeople, can help you at every stage when creating an inclusive hiring strategy as we are educated in bias and unconscious bias. We can also help you recognise where in your STEM recruitment strategy you may be creating barriers between your company and female applicants, from the job description to where and how you market your role.
If you are looking to broaden your candidate pool and attract more female STEM talent, IntaPeople can help! Get in touch today to discuss your recruiting needs!