“It’s a no-brainer.”  How many of us have heard this phrase used when discussing the need to improve the participation of women in science, technology, maths and engineering careers?  So why have we only seen a one per cent increase in the number of women engineers since the 1980s?  All the arguments point to the benefits that a more balanced workforce will bring, increasing productivity and making the work environment a better, more equal place. It is 2016, we shouldn’t need to be having these discussions. The unfortunate reality is that with only a small proportion of the STEM workforce being female, we urgently need to have the debates and take action to address the imbalance. More has to be done to create a culture to encourage the next generation of women into STEM subjects. 

Women and girls in the UK today deserve an equal opportunity to fulfil their potential

Since I was elected last year I have held numerous debates in Parliament and I have asked a whole host of questions to Ministers on this problem.  MPs share a cross-party passion to resolve this issue and deliver real change.  Everyone who speaks in these debates shares their frustration at the problem, yet we have seen little progress for decades.  Therefore, we must address the root causes of this problem. 

Most studies show that girls have already decided their future career path by the age of 14, therefore action must be taken in primary schools and early years.  Campaigns like “Let Toys be Toys” enable a non-gendered environment to be built around girls from an early age helping them to make a free and fair career decision.  The Government has begun to make some good progress on the curriculum and advice for teachers to ensure that girls get additional support when taking STEM subjects in school.  When girls are making that critical decision, mentoring schemes and proper career advice and guidance is critical.  This should not stop at the point of a decision, it should continue well into further/higher education and the workplace. 

MPs share a cross-party passion to resolve this issue and deliver real change

There are excellent schemes such as STEMNET, The Women’s Engineering Society, and the Industry Led Ten Steps Programme Run by WISE which have all led the way in promoting diversity in STEM careers.  However, as industry leads on breaking down silos, the Government must increase cross-departmental cooperation.  The Department for Work and Pensions must work with the Department for Education, Department for Business and the Government Equalities Office in order to break down the barriers to increased diversity.  All are working on individual projects but more needs to be done to join them together in a concerted effort to solve this long standing problem.

I am delighted to be supporting the “Women in STEM” campaign which helps to bring together schools throughout the UK, careers fairs, STEM events, industry and government to increase the pace of change.  Let this campaign act as a turning point for progress.  Women and girls in the UK today deserve an equal opportunity to fulfil their potential.  Let us give them that opportunity.