Equal career opportunities for girls and boys. It’s something all schools and colleges strive for. But in the field of STEM some of the statistics make for uncomfortable reading.
Only 17% of Engineering students at UK universities are female. For Computer Sciences the figure is much worse at 13.7%. 36% of Maths students are women, which is a little better, but is still some distance from the 50% you might expect. Just under 10% of successful candidates in A-level Computer Science are girls. For Maths it’s 39%, 21% for Physics and 30% for Design & Technology. Biology is more popular with the girls at 62%, and for Chemistry the split is pretty even at 51%. Things don’t look too great outside of university either, with only 8% of STEM apprentices in 2016-2017 being women.
When delving into the world of work, girls are drastically underrepresented in apprenticeship level STEM occupations, with women comprising 24% of the total employed in STEM industries.
The picture is not exclusively doom and gloom; we can cling onto some hope with the fact that – although women only make up 11% of professional engineers with a total of 48,449 in 2017 – this does represent an increase of almost 12,000 from 2016.
STEM careers offer excellent prospects and career stability, and with such an unequal gender balance, young women are missing out on some of the most exciting career opportunities out there. STEM careers also utilise a wide range of skills including team-work, creativity, problem-solving and communication – skills that girls often excel at.
This is without mentioning the money, money, money. Salaries supplied to Springpod by the Graduate Recruitment Bureau, based on the last twelve months to May 2018, show that graduates of Engineering, for example, have an average salary of £26,927. Those graduating from a science should expect £27,688. Compare that with History who are to expect £22,750 as an average, and STEM students are laughing. (These salaries are predominantly for London and the South East.)
With STEM providing great opportunities for young women, and with young women being able to offer so much to the industries, we thought we’d collate some top resources and tips to help schools get the girls onboard.
Be creative when it comes to UCAS choices
There are lots of great combined degree courses that might appeal to girls. Examples are Modern Languages with Mathematics at Royal Holloway; Physics with European Language at the University of Nottingham; Mechanical Engineering with French at the University of Sheffield; Computer Science with Psychology at the University of St Andrews. Have a look at the UCAS website for more ideas, and provide this information to girls making subject choices at GCSE and A-level.
The science competitions below are available to boys and girls and operate in competitive teams, which can be all-girl, if you wish.
Competitions often involve a cost to the school, which includes administration and the cost of materials. You might be able to gain sponsorship from local STEM employers, or consider other ways of fund-raising. Students often have lots of enterprising ideas. Below are two examples.
- First LEGO League UK and Ireland Competition (Institution of Engineering and Technology). Students aged 9-16 work in teams to design, build and program a LEGO robot to solve a series of missions. They then compete in national and potentially international championships. The cost for one team of students is £150 + VAT.
- VEX robotics competitions. Vex Robotics run two competitions: VEX IQ for younger students aged 7-14 and VEX EDR for those aged 11-18. The competitions involve designing, building and programming a robot to participate in competition games. Vex EDR is the largest robotic competition in the world. Andrew Duffey, Head of Design, Technology, Engineering and Computing at Henrietta Barnett School, an all girls’ state school in North London has been successfully running the competition for four years. Duffey explains:
“We run the VEX robotics competition as a lunchtime club, which involves around 70 girls from years 8 to 13. Last year we won the UK Excellence Award and sent six teams to the world championships. The competition is incredibly popular with our girls, and has greatly increased the numbers of girls choosing D&T at GCSE. If they proceed to A level D&T, they will have a great range of degree courses open to them, such as Design Engineering and Product Engineering.”
Link with universities
Some universities offer summer schools to encourage girls into STEM, including Imperial College which offers year 9 girls the opportunity to find out about Engineering. Simply Google “STEM Summer Schools” to find out more.
Universities are also often willing to provide speakers to go into schools and colleges to chat all-things STEM.
Plan your careers programme
When planning careers learning and employer engagements, consider:
- Lunchtime talks from women working in STEM.
- School trips to see engineers in action.
- Lunchtime science clubs run by sixth-formers.
- Evening talks for parents and students.
- Involving parents as much as possible – some may be women working in STEM who can help your school.
- Using the school website and perhaps social media to publicise STEM careers and events.
Over 30,000 STEM Ambassadors from 2500 companies offer presentations, mentoring and careers talks to schools, colleges, and community groups. Many are women who are excellent role models for your female students.
Employ female scientists to teach science
Teachers exert huge influence over their students and their outlook on the world. William Perkin C of E High School in Greenford, London has recently employed a former female computer scientist as a Computing teacher. Dame Alice Hudson, Executive Headteacher at the Twyford Church of England Academies Trust says:
“Attracting teaching staff with genuine industry experience who could confidently engage students with the opportunities in Computer Science has made a big impact on our students. In our current year 9 at William Perkins the numbers of students taking Computing in the first year of options choices (year 9) the numbers have more than doubled and now 33% of the students taking the course are girls… Overtly making students aware of the opportunities and debunking the myths of a stereotyped computer ‘geek’ has been vitally important in drawing female students in to the subject who might previously have been discouraged.”
Use TV and radio to inspire
BBC Radio’s Life Scientific broadcasts include a treasure-trove of inspiring interviews with top scientists, many of them women, and all available on BBC iPlayer.
Also watch out for the wide array of scientific TV and radio programmes to interest girls.
Engage with your local and national community
Education Business Partnership National is a network of 80 partnership organisations that build sustainable links with employers. They also provide information on the 80 local Education and Business Partnerships (EBPs) across the UK. EBPs should be a first port of call when looking for STEM speakers to come into your school or college, or to arrange visits to employers. If there isn’t an existing partnership, consider working with colleagues from other schools locally to set one up or build links with other industry groups.
Inspiring the Future works with 7000 employers and professional bodies, including those in STEM, in order to support state schools in a wide range of ways, including promoting careers and mentoring.
Some NHS Trusts offer work experience schemes, one example being University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust. Think beyond nursing and medicine – the NHS offers a wide range of exciting STEM careers that your students may not be aware of.
When it comes to work experience, encourage students to arrange their own placements during the school holidays, in addition to any formal arrangements the school has during term-time. It’s a great way of staving off school holiday boredom! They will need to check the employer has the necessary insurance, as with all work experience placements.
WISE provides a wide range of top quality resources for schools, based on research they have commissioned to determine how to encourage girls into STEM careers. These include the “People Like Me” resources for 14-19 year olds which are packed with tips and lesson plans.
Women’s Engineering Society
The Women’s Engineering Society provides a list of female engineers to speak at schools.
They also organise the International Women in Engineering Day, which is on the 23rd June 2018. If you are too late for this year, you can sign up for next year’s event.
Useful careers websites
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We totally get it’s not just down to schools to get girls into STEM. Not only is it embedded in our culture as a society, but parents also play a key role in their children’s career choice. The Engineer a Better World Campaign conducted research that indicates that fewer than half the parents of girls would encourage their child to consider a career in Engineering, compared to two thirds of the parents of boys. Misinformation, misunderstanding and misogyny within STEM is rife and infiltrated everywhere – but hopefully schools utilising the many resources outlined above will be one step of many in achieving gender equality in STEM.