British Science Week: Let’s Talk about Women in STEM

Today is the first day of British Science Week, and as scientists set up their tables at festivals to engage the public with science, its also important to engage people with some of the issues in STEM.

Totaljobs has undertaken some research which has highlighted some of the issues that face women within STEM careers, and illustrates some of factors that lead to inequality within science.

The lack of representation of women in STEM is a huge issue, as we loose girls from science education through unconscious bias and we loose women during their careers due to lack of support. It also appears that not only are women in STEM suffering from a social disadvantage, but they are also at an economical disadvantage, as totaljobs research across 1,450 STEM-related professionals showed:

•Women in STEM typically expect to be paid £7,107 less than men

•Men in STEM earn £639 more than women in bonuses

•65% of women admit they don’t feel comfortable asking for a pay rise

•37% of women believe their male counterparts are paid more for the same role

Alongside their research, they have made a useful video demonstrating some of the issues that lead to a lack of women in science – including a lack of female role models at a young age.

We find that young girls really enjoy science at school and don’t necessarily say ‘science isn’t a women’s job’, but we do find that they say ‘science just isn’t for me’. This is due to a lack of female role models in STEM and limited depictions of women in the media, leading them to not identify with a career in science.

Unconscious bias also has a role to play in the lack of girls engaging with STEM. As we are products of a biased society, we find that teachers can be subconsciously less encouraging towards girls in school: by allowing boys to answer questions more or scolding girls more often when they shout out in class – subtly reinforcing the idea that intellect and academia is a ‘boy’s world’.

Parent’s also display this unconscious bias, in fact as a science museum, parents are more than three times as likely to explain the exhibit to their boy child than their girl child.

And as totaljobs’ research suggests, we see gender differences in grown adults as well, due to stereotyping. We tell girls that women are passive and less competitive, so when they reach their career they feel unable to ask for a pay rise (as well as the clear gender pay gap within science, demonstrated in their research).

So as we get into British Science Week, spreading the joys of science, lets keep in mind the unconscious bias that can prevent girls from interacting with STEM subjects and how this can follow them throughout into their careers.

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Author: Alice Gray

STEM-inist blogger hoping to raise awareness for the issues facing women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

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