There is no doubt that it is important for the sake of our future society that we have more people working in science technology engineering and mathematics (STEM). Getting enough STEM-educated people is already proving to be a serious challenge. Fewer students are taking STEM courses, while seasoned engineers and scientists are moving toward retirement age. It is estimated that the EU will need to fill 7 million STEM-related job openings by the year 2025 to cover new opportunities emerging and also replace the aging workforce. One of the key reasons that member states are struggling to meet the shortfall, however, is that we are still failing to encourage enough women to follow engineering and science based career paths.
A Eurostat report published only last week highlighted the problem. There are approximately 8 million information communication technology (ICT) professionals currently employed within EU member states, however, less than 1.6 million of these are women. This only covers one aspect of STEM, but it does nevertheless prove to be a good indicator of the overall picture. So what needs to be done to redress the balance? Well a number of initiatives have been put in place with the objective of closing the gender gap that exists within the STEM sector. There is, it must be admitted, clearly quite a long way to go yet. The most recent figures compiled by the EU have shown the continent’s most prominent economies still only have a relatively modest proportion of women working in STEM. In France it is 17%, Germany just 15% and in the UK it is a mere 9%.
Greater diversity is key to society’s technology progression, with ladies and gentlemen each tending to have certain specific attributes that are of value. One way that females can help improve currently male-dominated engineering departments is via their usually better developed interpersonal skills. Research has shown that inclusion of women is advantageous when it comes to the team dynamics - encouraging closer collaboration so that project goals are met quicker and the chances of success are higher. The added dimensions that women can bring to the development of next generation technology and scientific research should therefore not be overlooked.
It cannot be left solely to the governments of EU member states to do something about the gender imbalance though. Companies that are active in technology sectors must play their part too. They should help nurture both male and female talent in scientific subjects at primary/secondary school level, supporting extra curricula projects for after normal lessons and during the school holidays. They also need to reach out to universities and give more support to students here, helping to create more compelling experiences that will make them more engaged.
There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that girls are less able than boys to be successful when it comes to embarking on a STEM education or a STEM career. Gender balance is key to tomorrow’s social well-being and to our economic prosperity. Whether as a parent, a teacher, a government official, a politician or an employer, we owe it to future generations to pay much more attention to ensuring greater STEM education of both girls and boys, and to bringing gender balance to all walks of life. I do so every single day of my life. Would you care to join me so your kids can be grateful to you too?