When it comes to education, the gender gap is most prevalent in STEM-related subjects compared, both across Europe and in the US. Data from the European Union’s statistics agency, Eurostat, recently showed that there are twice as many male graduates in science, mathematics, computing, engineering, manufacturing and construction, as there are female graduates.In the US, the situation is similar, except in the life sciences. There is markedly low representation of females in fields such as computer and information sciences and support services.
A report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that gender gaps start at an early age.The Bridging the Digital Gender Divide report said the gap between men and women in STEM is evident from an early age, continuing throughout university and into the workplace.
The report found that reasons for young girls’ lack of confidence to head into math, science and IT fields include societal and parental biases, as well as their expectations of future careers in those fields, which ultimately leads to self-censorship and lower engagement in these subjects.
According to Thomas Jørgensen, Senior Policy Coordinator at the European University Association, these are “worrying” figures as these are the subjects that are most likely to have an increasing impact on society.Speaking to Times Higher Education, he said, “You consistently have more women than men going into higher education, but in certain very key disciplines that is just not the case.”
“If you look at the whole digital transformation that is going on across society, this is an issue. When you think about people who develop anything related to artificial intelligence, they tend to be men.” This means that more support must be given to women who choose to pursue STEM-related majors, encouraging others to act on their interests in the field.
Universities and companies must take active steps to open career paths for female graduates and ensure they are given equal opportunities to their male counterparts, also introducing programmes to encourage more female students to take up STEM subjects. These universities in the UK and the US are great examples of STEM departments that are taking steps to bridge the gap, ensuring that all students are equipped with the full-range of employability skills needed to thrive as engineers.
The nine schools that make up the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Manchester are reputed for their quality teaching, and for producing employable, prepared graduates.Programmes here are designed to provide flexibility of choice, continually revised to reflect new development in each subject area, allowing students to work at the cutting-edge of science.The faculty is committed to recognising and promoting women’s careers in STEM, both in higher education and research.
The Athena SWAN Charter has been running since 2005, encouraging and recognising commitment to the advancement and promotion of the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM).The University of Manchester has been a member of the Charter since 2008 and currently holds a Bronze Award. All the STEMM Schools at the university hold Athena SWAN awards. The Faculty of Science and Engineering itself holds two Silver Awards and seven Bronze Awards.
Female STEM students can also take advantage of WiSET (Women in Science, Engineering and Technology), a network for all female students, research and academic staff in the Faculty of Science and Engineering, which aims to encourage more female graduates to enter and develop careers in science, engineering and technology (SET) fields.
Every year, student coordinators work with staff to arrange a programme of events including industry networking, skills workshops and industry site visits.
These events provide opportunities for students to meet female scientists and engineers who are working in industry and academia in a less formal environment.
At John Hopkins University in the US, female undergraduates in STEM thrive due to an interdisciplinary education system that incorporates hands-on learning and mentorship from faculty who are experts in their fields.Students are able to collaborate with renowned professors and explore topics and interests, driving innovation and finding solutions to real-world problems.
There are also a number of societies at the school that cater to female development in STEM, such as the Society of Women Engineers at Johns Hopkins University, We Lead Surgery, Women in Computer Science, Women of Whiting and Women’s Pre-Health Leadership Society.
Several STEM female graduates from John Hopkins have gone on to become trailblazers and pioneers in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Encouraging students to pursue majors of science and engineering from an early age, the school also offers the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Programme, a partnership between the Center for Educational Outreach (CEO) and Baltimore City Public Schools.
Designed to be an experiential learning opportunity for young women who are mentored by Johns Hopkins University (JHU) professors and graduate students, the programme spans one semester, in which students gain hands-on research experience in various university labs.
Darthmouth College in New Hampshire broke a new record when it became the first American research university to graduate a majority female engineering undergraduate class in 2016 (52 percent). This is testament to the school’s efforts to build a platform for female students to thrive academically.
Hands-on initiatives to provide support for women in STEM include the 25-year-old Women in Science Project (WISP) and the First-Year Research in Engineering programme, which offers part-time internships and mentorship schemes.
The university is backed by a faculty that actively engages women in STEM, adding to their commitment to boosting women interested in the field but who lack the support to pursue it as a career.Dartmouth engineering professor, Petra Bonfert-Taylor, was named 2018 Tech Teacher of the Year by the NH High Tech Council’s TechWomen | TechGirls Committee for her efforts.
Over two decades, she developed programmes and tools to make engineering and math accessible, particularly for students who want to pursue a STEM degree but whose early years didn’t give them the proper academic foundation, encouragement or role models to help them succeed.
The University of Strathclyde is committed to achieving and promoting equality of opportunity in its learning, teaching, research and working environments.
The international university, located in Glasgow, Scotland, has many projects and initiatives to support female employability and progression in STEM fields.
The Faculty of Engineering has established an undergraduate network to support students, and a Women in Science and Engineering Committee to support staff.
The university has attained a Bronze institutional Athena SWAN award, while eight departments hold a Bronze departmental award (Architecture, Chemical & Process Engineering, Design, Manufacture and Engineering Management, Electronic & Electrical Engineering, Mathematics & Statistics, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Physics and Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy & Biomedical Sciences), and one holds a silver award (Civil and Environmental Engineering).
There’s also Engineering the Future for Girls, hosted by the Faculty of Engineering, a non-residential summer school designed to engage girls in a wide range of engineering challenges that motivates and inspires them to become engineers.
*Some of the institutions featured in this article are commercial partners of Study International