Male dominance among the root causes of the lack of female students picking STEM

British firms say the lack of women from Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths backgrounds presents the main obstacle to increasing the female presence in their boardrooms. However, female students on TSR say the male dominance of these subjects from A-level up puts them off.

In October last year, The Student Room featured a report from the site, commenting on the findings of the Guardian UK 300 overview of graduate ‘dream jobs’. The findings showed that women favour careers in the charity and public sectors, while men seek information and technology careers. TSR’s marketing director, Jamie O’Connell, told the Guardian that:

“This could be because girls are not choosing Stem [science, technology, engineering and maths] subjects at school.”

Following Lord Davies’ review of the situation of women in boardrooms in February this year, in which he called on British firms to improve their equality records ‘or face government sanction’, last week The Guardian reported that Rolls-Royce are blaming this same lack of women studying STEM subjects as the reason for ‘its difficulty in hiring senior female staff’.

  • So, why do students think their female peers are still reluctant to take STEM subjects?

Girls Doing Computer Science!

One TSR member set up a thread in search of other like-minded female computer scientists to find out what was putting others off.  Apart from gender discrimination, which seems to present more of a challenge to women who are studying STEM, most of the female respondents cited male dominance as a big factor for choosing not to:

‘I was going to do computing at sixth form but realised no girl was doing it… didnt want to be the only girl in the class so never did it.’

In an area where men are stereotyped for being ‘geeks’, those women who overcome the potential ‘dominance’ obstacle to follow their passion face the challenge of gender discrimination about their abilities:

‘I worked at an IT company during the summer holidays last year and my boss told me: “girls like you usually become stewardess, why would you want to do something this hard?”

Another more positive post encouraged that

It’s always worth it when you have the people in first year who made off comments about women only being good for making sandwiches asking you to help them…’

Why doesn’t anyone study engineering?

One view was that

‘At sixth form girls drop these key subjects to do arty and creative subjects… so by the time it comes to ucas engineering is out of the picture…’

  • Getting to the Root of the Issue

Another report last month revealed concerns among recruitment agencies in Scotland that the lack of women taking these subjects is having ‘a detrimental effect’ on the Scottish economy. Research by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) found that the proportion of women in Stem sector jobs had not improved in the last three years. The Confederation of British Industry insisted that

‘a greater push is needed to encourage young people into Stem subjects at A-level if the skills gap is to be bridged.’

Rolls-Royce chairman, Sir Simon Robertson, said their company was ‘committed to improving diversity at all levels’, and ‘will continue to work actively with schools and universities.’

In the meantime, those who are taking the STEM route regardless are holding their own and seeing their hard work pay off. Five women have made the final for Young IT Professional of the Year, part of the Individual Excellence Awards category at this year’s UK IT Industry Awards. Winners will be announced on November 10th.