It’s time to stop stalling on women in STEM

In this guest post, Sheila Flavell, COO of FDM Group discusses the problems faced by women in the Stem industries.

The gender pay gap reporting process has left many companies facing difficult questions about how women are treated within the workforce. Although the results have caused embarrassment for many businesses, enforcing the publication of this information has helped elevate the issue of pay discrepancies to the top of the national media agenda, which can only be a good thing.

As company leaders struggle to justify, explain or grovel over their respective results, it’s important to recognise that tackling this problem is a marathon and not a sprint. The issue is complex and spans across all industries, so knee-jerk reactions will have little or no long-term effect.  In many cases, pay gaps occur because companies have more men in senior positions within the company, particularly in the boardroom.

The knock on effects of this problem are profound, impacting the careers of millions of women across the country. This divide is reflected in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) industries, where it has been reported that women make up just 14.4% of the entire workforce.

There are many reasons why we need to encourage more women into these industries, one of the biggest is the impact on economic productivity. No matter what explanation is given, the fact remains that these industries aren’t being pursued by girls in schools or doing enough to attract returners back into the workforce after taking time out to look after family members.

Recently we learned that the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), which is part of the Ministry of Defence, has created a Stem returners to work programme which is aimed at helping people who have taken a career break get back into their chosen field. This positive initiative will help women to get back into science oriented careers, but it can also bring more highly experienced and skilled employees back to the organisation. As well as bringing these qualities, women returning back into Stem careers can bring diversity into the workforce.

It’s clear that not enough is being done in UK businesses to offer women a clear return to work following a career break. Research has shown that only 23 companies in Britain offered official ‘returnships’ for individuals looking to get back into their career after a break.

What’s more, research by firm Women Returners suggests that more than a third (36%) of women surveyed expected to return at a more junior level than what they were before. This concern could prevent women from returning back to their careers, leaving them feeling poorly paid and undervalued in the eyes of employers.

If we continue to allow highly skilled women to miss out on these important career opportunities then companies will suffer. It will mean less talent, less diversity and less experience within the workforce, which will only do the company harm.

The time has come to stop stalling on these important issues. We need to see more flexible and remote working schemes, more returner programmes and a commitment to getting more women back into the workforce.

Instead of offering hollow explanations for a lack of progress, it’s time for companies to start offering practical solutions to drive up the number of women in Stem careers. Doing so will not only enrich Britain’s businesses, it will help create a more equal society.

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