Why don’t more young people study maths and science with enthusiasm and strive for a STEM career? The main reason appears to be that there isn’t a clear understanding of what the jobs actually are – and if you can’t imagine it then how can you imagine yourself doing it? If you ask a teenager to describe professions such as doctor, lawyer or vet they can answer confidently and correctly – ask them to tell you what a professional engineer does and they may well describe the mechanic that mends their family car. Girls in particular are put off by out-dated stereotypes of what they perceive to be male dominated job roles and workplaces where they wouldn’t fit in.

There are two simple things industry can do to combat this tendency for girls to close the door before STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers have even been considered:  Raise the profile of female role models who are thriving in their careers to help girls and their parents to envisage aspirational futures and open your doors so that girls can see what the job looks like in situ. 

WISE Young Women’s Board Member Hannah Goodall is a senior engineer with Network Rail and loves her job.  She says “Do things that you enjoy doing, not just what you’re good at or what skills you need for a certain job. Figure out the activities and tasks which get you motivated, passionate and engaged.  People don’t realise that being an engineer is incredibly creative. I now understand how the skills which are unique to me contribute to how Britain’s rail network operates successfully.”

And a note to parents, careers advisors and teachers: The skills shortage in the UK STEM workforce is daunting: 200,000 jobs a year to fill as an ageing workforce retires. A stark reality, but it represents a huge opportunity to encourage young people to pursue rewarding, creative careers in a growing sector that offers higher than average salaries and a vast array of fascinating job options. Why wouldn’t you want that for your child?

Careers in STEM are not just for those wanting to take an academic route via a University degree either. With the arrival of ‘Tech-level’ qualifications and University Technical Colleges there are many entry routes – from apprenticeships at 16 and higher apprenticeships as well as graduate programmes and re-training options for those looking to change direction.

Professor Averil Macdonald, a WISE Board Member recently awarded an OBE for services to women in science and author of a ground breaking report published by WISE in November 2014 commented: “The revolutionary insight in the ‘Not For People Like Me?’ report is set to be a game changer that addresses all the issues and concerns described in every article and report on the subject to date. By enabling girls and their mums to see how they fit into the huge range of jobs where people like them are happy and successful is the most inspiring way to open up the opportunities to the girls. Simply pointing out that 'Your country needs you' and that very few others have been convinced so far, has clear failed - obviously because it's just horribly off-putting.”

We at WISE asked ourselves the question: what will it take? And the answer, based on our analysis of the ONS labour force survey, is one million more women in the UK STEM workforce. This figure would mean we had reached a critical mass of 30% women, up from the current 13%, at which point a gender balance would have been achieved that would affect an overall cultural shift in the sector.

Change will not happen overnight, but by finding a different and more effective way to inspire the next generation we can all make a difference and hopefully the need to normalise women in STEM will become redundant. Could you or your daughter be one in that million?

For more information visit https://www.wisecampaign.org.uk/