Encouragingly women now make up 24% of FTSE 100 board positions and are increasingly represented in high profile science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) roles. The Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institution of Engineering and Technology and the Institute of Physics have appointed female presidents in the last year and at last we have a woman as the Chief Executive of the Energy Institute.
So, why is it, with high profile female innovators, that STEM is still often perceived as a career more suited to men? The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) “Engineer a better world” research recently highlighted that a staggering 93% of parents would not support their daughter in pursuing an engineering career. So it is not surprising that only around 13% of STEM professionals in the UK are women.
The challenge is clear, even after years of efforts to change them, the public perceptions of STEM are largely misinformed and outdated.
Engineering, is often mistakenly believed to be all about engines, cars and bridges. In reality, it involves areas such as biomedicine to renewable energy, which is what makes it such a great career.
There is no doubt that this fantastic female talent is out there, but it appears that there is a reluctance amongst women in STEM to stand up and shout about their accomplishments. This so-called “confidence gap” is not unique to STEM (a frequently quoted statistic is that men apply for a job when they meet 60% of the qualifications while women apply only if they meet 100% of them) but it is particularly visible in the energy sector. And for me, this unwillingness to promote ourselves really sums up the problem with the visibility of female innovators.
Recent research suggests that having role models similar to them would have a huge impact on the perception of STEM amongst children. For this reason, it is so important that we increase the visibility of female innovators in popular culture. The more female role models we present in a diverse range of STEM areas, the better chance we have of recruiting more women in the sector. One of WEN’s aims is “to raise the profile and awareness of women in the energy sector”.
Innovation is key to the growth of our society and economy. STEM professions face a looming skills shortage that threatens to hamper our ability to innovate as a nation. We can’t afford to put off half the population from the start. We need more female innovators to stand up, shout about their successes, and show the next generation how rewarding and enjoyable a job in STEM can really be.
If you belong to a company in the energy sector and would like to join the ongoing pursuit for equality have a look at www.wenuk.com and get in touch, we would love to hear from innovators, mentors and supporters!