THE NUMBERS SAY IT ALL
On average, women are more educated than men globally, and now participate more fully in professional and technical occupations than they did 10 years ago. Consistent with the increased representation of women among STEM degree recipients, women’s representation in the STEM workforce has also improved significantly in recent decades. However they are still underrepresented in many STEM professions and their chances to rise to positions of leadership are only 28% of those of men.
DATA FROM THE WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM SHOW THAT THE CHANCES OF WOMEN RISING TO POSITIONS OF LEADERSHIP ARE ONLY 28% OF THOSE OF MEN
The World Economic Forum, the UNESCO and the European Commission among other institutions regularly produce studies to understand the figures behind the underrepresentation of women in the STEM fields.
At a glance we can spot two basic problems: girls and women tend not to study some STEM subjects such as computer sciences, physics and engineering. When they do, there seems to be a glass ceiling presenting them from accessing senior roles.
According to a study commissioned by the EMPL committee of the European Parliament, the only common and persisting trend (in the supply of STEM skills) is the underrepresentation of women among STEM university graduates: in 2012, 12.6 % of female students graduated in STEM-related subjects, while 37.5 % of male graduates obtained STEM-related diplomas.
IN 2012, 12.6% OF FEMALE STUDENTS GRADUATED IN STEM-RELATED SUBJECTS, WHILE 37.5% OF MALE GRADUATED OBTAINED STEM-RELATED DIPLOMAS
Regarding the glass ceiling, UNESCO figures of 2013 say it all, female researchers represent 28,4 % of total researchers. This does not represent even a third of total researchers. According to the SHE figures report (European Commission 2012), in 2010 even if 46% of all PhD graduates in the European Union were female, just one third of senior research posts were occupied by women. When it comes to the labour market, the figures are not more encouraging, with women accounting for just 24% of science and engineering professionals (less than one out of four workers in the field are women).
FEMALE RESEARCHERS REPRESENTED ONLY 28,4% OF TOTAL RESEARCHERS IN 2013
Why girls are not pursuing STEM careers and being underrepresented in prestigious ones?
We have long assumed that science was a gender neutral practice. However, research shows that many STEM subjects are constructed and enacted in terms of descriptors such as rational, technical, hard, and independent; characteristics often connected to masculinity. This implies that individuals (female or male) who do not identify with such characteristics are not able to see themselves in STEM careers and professions. both at the formal education level but also in less formal institutions, STEM is often gendered in this way, reflecting explicit or implicit assumptions about what constitutes a standard student, the so called implied student. And this implied learner is usually a boy or man.
STEM IS OFTEN GENDERED, REFLECTING EXPLICIT OR IMPLICIT ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT WHAT CONSTITUTES A STANDARD STUDENT, THE SO CALLED IMPLIED STUDENT
Persisting gender segregation across study fields is the result of a mix of social, cultural, economic and educational institutional factors. The literature highlights the role of gender socialization of boys and girls to explain their uneven distribution across study fields. Family and especially parents play a key role as they often bring up their children to conform to traditional gender roles, while the education system, teachers and peers, tend to reinforce these stereotypes, giving support to gendered choices with regard to studies and career prospects.
PERSISTING GENDER SEGREGATION ACROSS STUDY FIELDS IS THE RESULT OF A MIX OF SOCIAL, CULTURAL, ECONOMIC AND EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONAL FACTORS.
We need to empower all the different stakeholders to promote an inclusive gender education in and out of school, to engage each community of actors, to encourage girls to study science, to balance the figures and to face the skill shortage that Europe will be soon facing.