Article by Karima Green, Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement Partner, SThree

women in computing, teacher, STEMScience, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) have traditionally been considered ‘men’s subjects.

But women could hold the key to solving some of the world’s most difficult and complex problems through STEM.

It’s widely accepted that climate change, poverty, injustice, gender discrimination and barriers to quality education are among the biggest challenges people face across the globe. But, there is also a massive shortage of people who have the STEM skills to find or develop the answers to these issues which impact us all in some way.

What’s most striking, however, is the huge lack of women in STEM jobs or studying STEM subjects.

According to the World Economic Forum, women make up around half of the world’s population but are disproportionately featured across the STEM industries. Female workers make up an estimated 26% of the Data and AI workforce worldwide and are in just 15% of Engineering and 12% Cloud Computing roles. At the same time, a study by UNESCO found that just 35% of STEM students in higher education are women and only 3% of female students in higher education choose to study IT.

Just imagine what we could achieve if we tapped into all the brilliant brain power that women across the world can’t share, don’t share or won’t have a chance to share, particularly in STEM.

How can we innovate and develop solutions to address huge global issues if we aren’t using the knowledge or intelligence of half of the population?

Explaining the under-representation of women in STEM

The lack of women in STEM is an issue that starts in childhood. Fewer girls choose to pursue STEM-related subjects into secondary and university education than their male peers. There is little incentive for talented women and girls to enrol in STEM education programmes.

And a lack of confidence, inclusive cultures and female role models contributes to and solidifies the perception that the STEM industry is better suited to men.

As someone who started my career in technology, I was often the only female in the room and on many occasions, my opinions and ideas weren’t heard or held in the same esteem as my male colleagues’. I was often told that women needed to ‘toughen up’ to get on in a male-dominated environment.

But on the flip side, some of the more progressive male leaders really helped me and provided opportunities to women who had masses of potential and who were brave enough to change the landscape in their own way.

Those were small steps, but we need to be making strides.

So, how do we change the landscape?

Representation and role models matter, and we need to position STEM to young women and girls differently. Einstein, Newton, Hawking and Darwin are rightly celebrated but what about Grace Hopper, the trailblazing computer programmer who developed a compiler that was a precursor to the COBOL language? What about Roberta Bondar, the pioneering space medicine researcher, or Augusta Ada King, the mathematician and writer who is widely considered as the first computer programmer?

We also need people, organisations and businesses to be proactive in making space for women, to provide opportunities and give them the support that they need to be successful.

To that end, I’m really proud to see how SThree has helped fund the education of girls at the specialist STEM African Science Academy in Ghana. It’s a real testament to how SThree lives its purpose of ‘bringing skilled people together to build the future’.

Since our partnership began in 2019, we’ve donated almost £170k to the school, while helping mentor and support the girls through university and giving them the chance to live their dreams of becoming engineers, scientists and tech experts. The best part though, is that many will go on to take what they’ve learned to give back and improve their communities across Africa, while making a dent in some of the biggest issues affecting the world.

Giving those girls the opportunity and helping them succeed is just a drop in the ocean when it comes to solving the world’s problems. But if that scheme, the motivations behind it and its successes, can be replicated across the world, it will go a long way to building the future in a diverse and exciting new way.