International Women’s Day: STEM careers & apprenticeships

Numbers of female computer programmers, scientists and engineers are going up, but there’s still a need for more role models in the sector.

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Women starting core STEM apprenticeships during 2016/17 still only represented 8% of total core STEM apprenticeship starters.

The number of women in degree courses compared to men has almost doubled in just 10 years, as women are 35% more likely to go to uni than men.

In fact, further research shows women currently make up 47% of employees in ‘male-dominated’ STEM subjects, with a quarter of the jobs in mathematical sciences and 13% in engineering positions. However, the lack of female role models in STEM is a key reason girls don’t pursue a career in the sector.

Over the past few decades, there has been a massive rise in the female workforce, with the employment rate of women aged 25 to 54 up from 57% in 1975 to a record high of 78% in 2017. In fact, recent reports collected by Fresh Student Living found women in the UK are 35% more likely to go to university than men.

While women make up 47% of employees in ‘male dominated’ STEM subjects, they now represent a quarter of the jobs in mathematical sciences and 13% of engineering positions. Women may still dominate traditional roles like nurse practitioners, flight attendants and social workers, however there has been an increase in female students entering less traditional career paths like computer programmers, aircraft pilots and even firefighters, to name a few. 

Flipping gender roles 

According to the latest findings from UCAS, women in the UK are 35% more likely to go to university than men. Women attending uni outnumber men in 112 of a total of 180 subjects, with women charging ahead in subjects like psychology (81.7%), social work (88.3%) and academic studies (88.7%). Nursing remains the most female-dominated subject with 90.5% female students in 2017.

Due to encouragement and some strong female role models, female students are taking on traditionally male-dominated subjects like computer science and engineering. As it stands, there are 66,840 more women now on degree courses than men, compared with 34,035 in 2007.

Ground-breaking research by Microsoft surveyed 11,500 women between the ages of 11 and 30 in 12 countries across Europe about their attitudes to STEM. The unique insight found that most girls become interested in STEM at the age of 11-and-a-half, although most lose interest by age 15. Reasons for this include a lack of female role models in the industry and not enough practical, hands-on experience in primary and high school. 

Where women are thriving 

Although women continue to be under-represented in STEM sectors like computer science and engineering, there are other areas in which women have made significant progress. The 2017 WES survey found that 11% of the engineering workforce is female, up from 9% in 2015. 

STEM sectors like nurse practitioners and data entry have traditionally been dominated by women and continue to remain so. Below is a list of sectors in which women are thriving and the percentage of women employed:

  • Registered nurses - 90% 
  • Health practitioner support technologists and technicians - 81.4% 
  • Clinical laboratory technologists - 74%
  • Medical scientists - 53.7% 
  • Financial managers - 53.2% 

The science of it all 

Ground-breaking research by Microsoft surveyed 11,500 women between the ages of 11 and 30 in 12 countries across Europe about their attitudes to STEM. The unique insight found that most girls become interested in STEM at the age of 11-and-a-half, although most lose interest by age 15. Reasons for this include a lack of female role models in the industry and not enough practical, hands-on experience in primary and high school. 

Just 42% of girls surveyed said they would consider a STEM-related career while 60% admitted they would feel more confident pursuing a career in STEM fields if they knew men and women were equally employed in those professions. 

According to UCAS data, the number of women studying law has been steadily increasing for years. In fact, there is more than double the number of female law students than men who have been accepted a place to study law.  To put this into perspective, of the 26,075 students accepted to study law in 2017, 33% were men and 67% were women. According to Law Society statistics, 62% of solicitors admitted to the roll in 2016 are female.

Women have become more qualified

The hourly gender pay gap for full-time workers dropped by 8.3% from 1997 to 2017, with the gap for all workers dropping by about 9.1%.  The IFS suggests the reason for the decline is that, overall, educational qualifications for women have increased more quickly than men’s, and as from the late 2000s, women have become the more qualified sex. 

How to attract more females to male-dominated industries 

It is important to tackle the stereotypes girls are exposed to in order to attract them to study male-dominated subjects in university.

Get to them early – Most girls state a lack of confidence and skills as a reason for opting out of typically ‘male’ subjects at a high school level. Changing this perception early in the girls’ school career and introducing hands-on learning opportunities, workshops and peer interactions can open the door to more young girls feeling confident in their abilities to enter the vibrant and rewarding STEM workforce.

Bust the stereotypes – It is important to dispel the myths that dissuade young girls from studying ‘male’

subjects in school and pursuing careers in these sectors. One of the main misconceptions is that IT careers are restricted to coding and development. In fact, a strong technical background can be used to enter a vast range of career paths, including medicine, education and communications, to name a few.

Female role models – Young women are put off careers in STEM and IT due to so few role models, and the mentality that it is a ‘boys club’. This is why mentorship plays an important role in setting females on a path to success and confidence. By pairing young women with accomplished female professionals, they can not only offer one-on-one attention and guidance but also act as living proof that women can achieve success in these types of industries.

Women in STEM apprenticeships

Getting more women into STEM careers can help change this overall picture.

Last year the WISE Campaign reported that the number of women achieving a Core-STEM apprenticeship had increased by 320 – a 7% growth on the previous year. The proportion had gone up slightly, reversing the more recent trend, as the number of men had increased by only 5%.

However, women are still only 8.2% of the total starting a Core-STEM apprenticeship. Put another way, more than nine out of 10 STEM apprentices are men.

There is also a noticeable difference between women’s representation at different apprenticeship levels. Women achieve just 6% of Advanced Apprenticeships in core-STEM , but represent 11% of achievements of Higher Apprenticeships.

WISE are keen to explore the reasons behind these disparities, we encourage organisations who work with or train apprenticeships to get in touch and share their experiences.

The number of women achieving an Engineering & Manufacturing Technologies apprenticeship has increased by 330. Women’s representation in this category has risen to 7% compared with 6.8% in 2015/16.

There has been a small decrease in the number of women achieving Information and Communication Technology apprenticeships – down to 1360. This represents a drop in representation from 15.9% to 14.4% over the year.

In Construction, Planning and the Built Environment apprenticeships there has been a 33% increase in the number of women achievers to 240. Women’s representation has increased marginally to 2.0%

Women in STEM apprenticeship starts

Women starting core STEM apprenticeships during 2016/17 still only represented 8% of total core STEM apprenticeship starters.

Women represent 53% of apprenticeship starts across all frameworks, but the majority of these women start apprenticeships in occupations that have traditionally been female-dominated - such as nurses or data entry workers employed by STEM companies.

This implies that it is not concerns about the apprenticeship route that deters women from pursuing STEM apprenticeships but is an issue specific to STEM sectors.

Why?

The Learning And Work Institute published Understanding the underrepresentation of women in engineering apprenticeships report last year. Although it focuses specifically the  STEM sector as a whole.

The report found that although women are not generally under-represented in apprenticeships, the overall figures mask significant gender segregation within sectors. The dataset contains records for over 22,000 applicants who were successful in 2015 and early 2016, with just over half (52.5%) of those for whom gender data is available being female.

However, within engineering and manufacturing technologies (EMT), women accounted for just 140 (6.7%) of successful applicants. Given the existing gender imbalance within the sector, it is perhaps unsurprising to find that women are much less likely than men to apply for apprenticeship opportunities in the EMT sector, whether successfully or unsuccessfully. Only 3.7% of all female applicants submitted an application to the EMT sector in 2015 and early 2016, compared with 34.6% of male applicants; and EMT accounted for just 1.7% of all successful female applicants.

There is little difference in the success rates for male and female applications to the EMT sector, one of the few sectors with no significant difference between the two. This remained the case for most demographic groups, with the exception of applications submitted by candidates from a BAME background, where female applications had a significantly higher success rate than male applications. 

There is also little difference in success rates for men and women within most EMT frameworks, with the sole exception of ‘improving operational performance’, with a higher success rate for men. A similar proportion of male and female applicants to EMT applied to each apprenticeship level, with no difference in success rates found between them for intermediate or advanced opportunities.

The success rate of female applicants to EMT did vary by framework and location; however, this pattern was also apparent for male applicants. Age was also a small factor, with the success rate of female applications to the EMT sector slightly decreasing as age increased. Interestingly, the results indicate that women who apply to the sector tend to focus less on it than men; instead they are more likely to have applied to a wide range of different sectors.

Alternative sectors are frequently unrelated to EMT; for example, the next most common sectors for female applicants to EMT are ‘business, administration and law’ and ‘retail and commercial enterprise’. 39.6% of female applicants to EMT had applied only to this sector, compared with 55.8% of men.

Furthermore, women are less likely than men to be persistent in applying for apprenticeships within the sector; only around 25% of women who unsuccessfully applied for an EMT apprenticeship subsequently made further applications to the sector, compared with 43% of men. On average, female applicants submitted 1.53 EMT applications per person, significantly lower than the equivalent figure of 2.16 for male applicants.

Data on reasons for an application’s lack of success show a significant difference between male and female applicants. Women were more likely to be judged ‘not eligible for the apprenticeship’ or for the ‘training provider to be unable to contact them’. In contrast, men were more likely to be informed that ‘you met the employer’s/provider’s requirements but have been unsuccessful’ or that the apprenticeship was withdrawn.

 

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