Representation and equal opportunities for women remains a major issue in STEM fields, where men continue to disproportionately dominate the workforce across numerous key industries. Worryingly, despite a number of initiatives aimed narrowing the gender gap, the proportion of the STEM workforce occupied by women has actually decreased from 22% to 21% in the United Kingdom since 2015, according to a study carried out by WISE.
One key finding of this and other studies has been that women and young girls often fail to see themselves reflected in the images and media surrounding STEM careers. To combat this, Getty Images recently ran an international competition in partnership with Your Life and Washington STEM to source inspirational images of STEM professionals. The winning image, entitled 'Red & Blue' was taken by photographer Stanislaw Pytel, and features a young woman working on a circuit board.
According to Your Life chair Edwina Dunn, the goal of the project was to move away from the stereotypical images of middle-aged white men in white coats and present a more diverse picture of the modern STEM vocations.
"We are simply not doing enough to show young people the many inspiring men and women who are right now working on projects to provide the world with cleaner energy sources, to give us healthier foods, to cure cancer, to provide those without shelter with smart homes and so much more” Dunn told the Huffington Post in a recent article. "“We are delighted with this set of images which help to challenge stereotypes and represent the true picture of exciting science-fueled jobs of the future.”
Colleen Smith, Vice President and General Manager of OpenEdge at Progress also called for more support for women in STEM fields in a recent article for Fortune Magazine, noting that girls interested in pursuing a STEM career were four times more likely than boys to feel that their teachers haven't prepared them enough to succeed in their chosen field. Many celebrated female leaders have emerged from STEM backgrounds, from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.
Smith argues that it's never too early to nurture an interest in technical fields, and that after-school clubs and parents need to explore less stereotypical activities for girls. "Girls who have more exposure to science and technology... are given a more well-rounded experience" she explains. "It helps to immediately dismiss the society-generated notion that some activities are better suited for one gender over the other."
Numerous studies appear to back up Smith's argument. For example, girls who participated in Girl Scout STEM programs reported a boost in confidence by up to 61% in maths classes and 82% in science. Smith posits that this confidence can not only encourage girls to pursue further STEM studies, it can also empower them to take on leadership roles in all fields - something Merkel, Mayer and their contemporaries would likely agree with.
Are you a woman pursuing a career or program of study in a STEM field? Are you a parent of girls who you'd like to encourage to take an interest in STEM subjects? Is representation the answer to closing the gap? Share your insights in the comments section below.