It is no secret that we have a shortage of STEM workers in the UK, however, it may be surprising to know that only 26.9% of the STEM workforce are women writes Caoimhe Carlos, Vice President of Global Customer Success, Udemy.

Although this percentage is slowly increasing year-on-year, organisations can optimise their technical workforce by recruiting more women to fill the shortage in STEM roles and balance gender representation in this highly skewed field. STEM roles have traditionally been male-dominated fields and as such, women face numerous barriers to accessing digital technologies and opportunities.

Champion trailblazers as mentors

Although more women are entering the STEM workforce, the current percentage is still strikingly small. This could be partially due to the lack of role models for young women in technical industries, with 64% of women in tech claiming to have been motivated by an inspirational figure to pursue their career – compared with just 47% of men. Further, according to the DDI’s 2023 Global Leadership Forecast, the percentage of women in tech leadership roles has recently fallen to 28%.

At a recent event hosted by Udemy in Dublin, Ireland on the topic of embracing gender equity, we heard from successful women professionals who are leading global corporations, known as trailblazers, who shared incredible experiences, advice and recalled the mentors who lifted them and other women along the way. By celebrating and championing the women who have broken professional barriers and are thriving in a male-dominated workforce, we can inspire more women into training for a number of technical fields. Aside from being role models for young women entering the field, these trailblazers can make a larger impact on the industry embracing equity, creating a ripple effect, and becoming the support mechanism for other women to enter and grow in their respective fields.

This is why we need to not only encourage more women into the industry, but also create more diverse leadership teams. Not only will diverse teams instil more innovation and creativity at the organisational level and enable more opportunities for women, but according to McKinsey research, companies with more gender diversity in leadership positions were 25% more likely to make higher profits than companies with low gender diversity in leadership positions.

Continual skills acquisition through online learning

Women who are exposed to STEM subjects early in their careers and have periodic access to learning about the latest skills required in this evolving field are more likely to consider it as a career option in the future. As the STEM fields are continually developing and changing, the US Department of Commerce noted that a person’s prior education only lasts about five years before it is out of date and it’s projected that the skills needed for any given job are increasing by an average of 10% per year.

Udemy’s 2023 Learning Trends Report highlights seven out of the top ten surging skills are technical, with the top three skills in the UK that have grown in consumption over the past quarter being tech skills according to Udemy’s Q1 2023 Global Workplace Index, showing a clear appetite for employees to develop their technical skills. It is therefore imperative to ensure those in the STEM fields are continually learning and are in an environment that encourages this.

Companies must invest in upskilling and foster a culture of continuous learning through well-designed and customisable learning paths that are closely connected to the employee’s individual role as well as the company’s overall business objectives. Flexible, online learning solutions can be an excellent resource for this, as they allow employees, no matter their gender or position, to gain more knowledge, skills and real-world applications that can enable them to think critically, learn faster, overcome challenges, optimise processes and achieve their goals to make positive changes in their careers. What’s most important is that these online courses are accessible to everyone in the company, regardless of their role or department, to ensure gender parity across the company.

Inclusive culture is key

Creating an inclusive, encouraging and supportive culture for women in STEM careers is vital for increasing their representation in the STEM community and enabling them to grow into leadership positions. In fact, studies have shown that a diverse and inclusive workplace is not only more equitable but also more productive and innovative. Although there are many avenues for companies to encourage a culture of inclusivity and encourage women to enter the STEM workforce, perhaps the most important is setting a company ethos around inclusion.

Companies can also leverage online learning platforms as a method of retraining staff, especially leaders and managers, on the importance of diversity at all levels and how to represent and support the ethos. These courses taught by real-world experts who provide local examples and culturally relevant best practices can help business leaders and leadership teams to become belonging, diversity and inclusion champions.

The shortage of STEM workers in the UK will not be solved overnight. However, a key step in closing this gap, not only for labour shortages but gender gaps as well, is through the championing, upskilling and encouraging of the underrepresented gender into the sphere of STEM. Many global technology companies are taking positive steps to build more inclusive and diverse cultures to attract more female employees, but it is on all of us to support women to help forge a society where everyone can thrive in their chosen fields. Companies that are looking to build their workforce can leverage the powerful combination of technology and multimodality learning to drive greater business outcomes.