Business, Innovation and Skills CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Women into Science and Engineering (WISE) Campaign

About the WISE Campaign

1. Women into Science and Engineering (WISE) inspires women and girls from all backgrounds to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as pathways to exciting, worthwhile and fulfilling careers. We support educational institutions, business and industry to provide a welcoming and positive experience for women. WISE acts as a catalyst and broker—bringing together women, educational institutions, business and industry to create a powerful force for change. Working in partnership, our aim is to ensure that 30% of the UK’s STEM workforce is female by 2020.

2. Our services are designed to build and sustain the pipeline of female talent in STEM, from classroom to board room. These include:

(I)Case for change: statistics, evidence of what works, case studies and champions of the business case for women in STEM.

(II)Building the pipeline: expert advice on effective engagement of girls in STEM subjects, recruitment services and inspiring female role models

(III)Sustaining the pipeline: Training and consultancy services to industry and professional bodies to nurture female talent at all levels. Networking and training programmes for women.

3. Our submission focuses on the question posed by the Inquiry on how to tackle gender stereotyping, which is a barrier to women’s participation in STEM subjects and therefore limits their contribution to the STEM workforce. WISE is the new trading name of the UKRC, which was funded by BIS from 2004–12. The purpose of the UKRC was to increase the proportion and position of women in science, engineering and technology careers by providing resources to industry and education and support services to women, including those STEM qualified but not currently working in it. Our submission reflects lessons learned from this investment.


4. Women in the UK are under-represented in STEM sectors: it is 37 years since the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act. The engineering workforce comprises 4% female technicians and 6% female engineers.1 The percentage of women employed as IT and telecoms professionals has declined from 22% in 2001 to just 18% in 2010.2 Fewer than one in five of applicants to the Technical Apprenticeship Service for scientific roles are female.3

5. Female participation in STEM tapers off from primary school age onwards. The proportion of girls sitting STEM GCSEs is almost 50%.4 The proportion of girls sitting STEM “A” levels is 42%.5 Women account for only 33% of undergraduates,6 and only 12% of the STEM workforce.7 Fewer girls and women study STEM subjects: and then there is also a serious problem of retention. More than two thirds of working age women in the UK with a STEM degree do not work in STEM occupations.8

6. A recent evaluation of pilot projects to increase the diversity of apprenticeships found that young women, parents and, often, teachers and advisers held outdated views of STEM occupations. Employers tended to feel that there were few barriers on the supply side but rather there was limited demand among young women. However, pilots were not convinced that all employers had considered unconscious bias in recruitment practices and work environments.9

7. The evidence shows that girls are in effect discouraged from taking up STEM subjects from primary school age onwards. This failure of the education system means there is a smaller pool of talent for businesses which need more people with STEM skills. It also means women are excluded from jobs commanding higher earnings.10 For those women who do obtain STEM qualifications, the culture and practices of traditionally male-dominated working environments is often a deterrent to their recruitment and retention. The overall impact of the dearth of women in STEM occupations is that UK industry does not benefit from the additional innovation, return on equity and profit that a diverse workforce offers.

Recommendations for Tackling Gender Stereotyping in Engineering, Construction, Science and Technology Sectors

8. Engineering, science and technology are still not chosen as careers by the majority of women and girls in the UK, despite a growing desire from business and industry to diversify their workforce. There is a lot of public money going into engagement initiatives which are failing to have any significant impact on the numbers of women in STEM. We need to break the vicious circle, whereby the lack of female role models in UK companies sends a message to the next generation that these industries are not for them. It is time for a fresh approach. WISE recommends concerted and co-ordinated action on three fronts:

Promote the case for change.

Build the female pipeline.

Sustain the female pipeline.

9. Recommended action to promote the case for change:

(I)include a gender breakdown when reporting on educational achievement in STEM and draw attention to the positive achievements of girls and women;

(II)include a gender breakdown in business and industry reports on the UK STEM workforce, with trends over time and international comparisons;

(III)Business, industry & government to publish information on unfilled STEM jobs and the potentially untapped market opportunities in the STEM world; and

(IV)ask STEM industry leaders to speak out about the business benefits of a diverse workforce.

10. Recommended action to build the female pipeline:

(I)Audit publicly funded STEM education and engagement programmes to assess their impact on the number of women and girls taking STEM subjects and entering the STEM workforce.

(II)Schools and colleges should be required to promote STEM subjects to male and female pupils alike and to publish data on male and female participation and achievement.

(III)OFSTED should include addressing gender stereotyping in their inspection criteria.

(IV)Schools and advisers should provide information to girls and their parents about the range of jobs and careers available to those with STEM qualifications, expected earnings and job opportunities/demand.

(V)Colleges, universities and employers seeking to attract women onto STEM courses or into STEM jobs should review their marketing and recruitment strategy to ensure the messages appeal to women and that there are no unintentional hurdles to female recruitment.

(VI)Government, business and industry should share and publish information about what works and what does not work in terms of attracting girls and women into STEM.

(VII)Prospective employers should demonstrate to women from all backgrounds that STEM subjects will open doors for them, by promoting a wider variety of success stories and role models.

(VIII)Policy makers and media should increase the air time given to women commenting on STEM issues.

11. Recommended action to sustain the female pipeline:

(I)University STEM funding, including research funding should be linked to achieving the Athena Swan awards.

(II)Business and industry to embed gender equality into business plans with stretched targets for recruitment and progression.

(III)Business and industry to audit workplace culture and practices and develop action plans to address any issues adversely impacting on women’s recruitment, retention and progression, for example:

(a)Unconscious bias awareness training should be given to recruiters—both in HR and those running selection days and interviews.

(b)Selection processes to be vetted and accredited.

(c)Gender awareness training to address the demeaning and regressive banter that can go on in the workplace.11

(IV)Women with STEM qualifications who take career breaks should be given opportunities to maintain contact with the workplace and offered refresher programmes if necessary to encourage their return to work.

(V)The promotion process needs to be challenged to ensure that women are encouraged to positions for senior roles.

(VI)Provide targeted support for women mid-career, at the point where progression drops off (mentoring, sponsorship, development, training).

(VII)Promote the benefits of maternity returners remaining in organisations.

(VIII)Promote the economic & social benefits of flexible working including working from home and compressed hours (working eight hours during school terms and fewer during holidays is very useful) including a campaign to rebrand part time working as “prime time working”.

(IX)Provide child care vouchers to assist with childcare costs

(X)Strengthen pay reporting to include male/female pay by grade.

(XI)Campaigns to promote women in STEM should promote case studies of companies which have bucked the trend in terms of female recruitment, retention and progression

(XII)Organisations employing women in STEM should give them opportunities to promote their work as positive role models to the next generation and organisations that highlight their female role models, particularly internally, this provides encouragement and challenges stereotypes.

(XIII)Use the power of government contracts to reward organisations with good practice by requiring those bidding for funding or contracts to develop a diversity strategy and report annually on progress.

11 October 2012

1 Engineering and Technology: Skills and demand in industry, Annual survey, 2012, IET

2 Why you need to know more about the gender imbalance in IT, E-skills website download 28 September 2012

3 Technical Apprenticeship Service, July 2012

4 Secondary analysis by the UKRC (2012) of JCQ GCSE and Entry Level Certificate [Provisional] Results Summer 2012 ( accessed 23 August 2012)

5 The UKRC (2010), Women and men in science, engineering and technology – The UK statistics guide 2010

6 Secondary analysis by the UKRC (2010), The working age population by ethnicity, economic activity and occupation in the UK, 2009

7 The UK statistics guide as above

8 ???

9 Evaluation of the Diversity in Apprenticeships pilots, Institute of Employment Studies, September 2012

10 The gender pay gap in technology is 23%—significantly higher than the figure for the UK labour market as a whole.

11 For example, a young female engineer on work placement complained to WISE recently about being told by male colleagues she had to “man up”

Prepared 19th June 2013