STEM courses (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are often pigeon-holed as being “best suited for men”. This misconception has been passed down through generations and reinforced by influencers. No – not Instagram accounts with lots of followers, I’m talking about parents and guardians in this instance.
For some female students, often by the time they’re in a position to decide on a path for their further education or career, they’ve already ruled out certain courses and jobs based on these inherited norms. Sadly, these norms are embedded from an early age, with studies showing young girls are twice as likely to draw men as they are women when asked to illustrate a scientist or mathematician.
We know how important it is to break down barriers holding back gender equality. We need not only to educate young people on the diversity of opportunities in STEM at an early stage, but also to influence the ‘influencers’; communicating to parents and guardians that STEM subjects are a viable career choice regardless of gender.
STEM falls under my remit at Glasgow Clyde College and it has long been a faculty-wide objective to address the gender balance within these courses. Since 2017, the college has worked with SmartSTEMs, hosting events showcasing a range of subject-specific workshops to school pupils across the primary and secondary levels.
These events connect college staff and students, schools and businesses to deliver informative sessions linking STEM activities directly with careers.
They also allow young learners crucial opportunities to speak with industry professionals, many of whom are women with successful careers. These role models are essential for realigning the way young people view careers in STEM.
Over the years we have also collaborated with Equate Scotland, the Scottish Government body set up to tackle the issue of gender equality in STEM pathways. This involves an audit of our course prospectuses all the way through to placement programmes and mentoring schemes, which have been supported by businesses.
However, it is not enough to simply educate school kids at a young age, there is a vital job to be done teaching parents and guardians about the diversity of opportunity within STEM. Influencing these influencers is an important step towards in eradicating the gender-specific stereotypes that we see as the root of this problem.
We regularly host events which allow this key audience to learn about the courses we offer and their prospective career paths. During our apprenticeship week in March, we invite companies from a range of sectors. Representatives from each business share careers advice to school leavers and inform parents of opportunities within each sector.
Since 2014, we’ve seen an increase in female applicants in STEM subjects at Glasgow Clyde College. While proud of this progress, there’s still a long way to go. Thankfully, the STEM industry is well aware of the problem and there is a concerted effort across educational establishments, industry bodies, businesses and the government to effect real, lasting change.