Gender stereotypes holding back UK STEMM sector

19 July 2022 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read

As the UK looks to strengthen its science and technology sector, sourcing enough talent for the industry to flourish is crucial. According to Lindsay Lucas, CEO of Software Solved, this makes improving gender representation in STEMM especially important.

The UK technology industry is growing at a rapid rate and globally recognised for its pioneering innovations in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM). According to Tech Nation’s 2021 Scale Ratio Report, Exeter was a key tech hub to watch in 2021, along with Belfast and Dundee. The scale indicates the areas in the UK which have the highest potential for growth.

The region has become a hub for tech excellence, turning over £2.4 billion annually, housing big players such as the MET Office and exciting start-ups who are leading the way in digital solutions for a range of industries.

Lindsay Lucas, CEO of Software Solved

Tech Nation also reports in its UK Tech for a Changing World study UK tech firms attracted more than £6bn of venture capital funding, more than any other European country. Technology might be at the cutting-edge of growth and discovery, but the industry is famously less advanced when it comes to gender diversity. Nationally, just 19% of tech workers are women and only 22% of these are tech directors.

Worse still, the number of women in the tech sector has barely moved over the past ten years even after an industry-wide push. So, if the tech sector is booming for many in the UK, even during a global pandemic, where are the women?

It was evident that inequality has been amplified by Covid-19. For example, young women have been some of the most impacted by Covid due to the number who are in frontline care giving roles and therefore also most exposed to the virus.

The gender stereotypes have surfaced in many areas, with some women being refused furlough and feeling they have no other option than to resign from their roles as they are simply unable to fulfil their job and look after children, because their jobs cannot be done remotely or companies are not supportive of home working.

The gender pay gap

The government removing the need to publish gender pay data during the pandemic was a big step backwards in addressing the gender pay gap, as it sent the message that it wasn’t important. The government went on to demonstrate the gender stereotypes that still remain within the establishment with their “stay at home, save lives” poster that showed women keeping house, home schooling while the man relaxed on the sofa. This was soon torn down, but the bigger question is how did this ever get out in the first place.

There are various factors to blame for the under-representation of women in the industry, from the lack of STEMM opportunities and support for girls in schools to gender bias and stereotypes preventing women from advancing in the workforce. Promoting female participation in STEMM, dispelling the myths around tech careers and championing women’s achievements must begin as early as possible in our education system. Research from Stem Graduates found that only 15% of Engineering graduates are women, and just 13% of the UK STEMM workforce are female. It is clear that improving the routes for women into technology will help to see more female tech leaders.

Starting in schools and universities will help women who wish to study and work in the field with greater confidence. It should also make tech firms acknowledge that hiring the best qualified person for the role, regardless of gender or background, is most important. Through creating more equal opportunities for young people to develop digital skills, it will give them the confidence and skills to pursue a career in tech.

Limiting certain groups from working in the industry is limiting what the technology sector can achieve. A diverse workforce is essential for innovation, it brings together different ways of thinking and allows creativity to flourish. For a sector which is also facing a skills gap, it is all the more reason to support women who want to work in the field.

Tech companies which operate with a strong female-led team across all departments is relatively rare; it is imperative that this changes. Ethical and sustainable business is particularly important and businesses might also consider how sustainability is about people and building an inclusive, supportive workforce which enables all individuals to fulfil their potential.

There is a wealth of creativity and technical innovation in the UK that must be supported alongside the more established tech hubs; in doing so we can better support and grow the sector and see the UK become a technological powerhouse for innovation. Improving the pathways into technology, addressing the equal participation of boys and girls in STEMM and continuing to support staff at work will ensure the sector benefits from a skilled, engaged and confident workforce.