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Striking a balance in the STEM industry

Posted by on June 30, 2014

Rachel Lambert-Forsyth, director of education and training at the Society of Biology, discusses equality and diversity in STEM careers.

Our world today would be unrecognisable without the scientists and engineers whose work has helped shape modern life as we know it. For this reason, it is highly important that we help the next generation of scientists and engineers get the most of out of their education and careers so they can do the same for future generations. All genders have been pioneers of STEM fields; however, it often feels as though women are falling at the wayside. Regardless of the fact that women are responsible for 46% of the overall UK workforce, Government figures show that women hold just 15.5% of jobs within the STEM career sector. Moreover, within engineering this figure drops to as low as 9%.

It’s a major concern that the gender gap in STEM careers is so high. Women leave academia in larger proportions than men at every step of the postgraduate ladder and are vastly under-represented in top positions across the spectrum of academia. Although the biosciences are typically thought of as the most gender-balanced of the sciences, the Society of Biology is concerned that this balance does not apply to the top of the academic career ladder. For example, in 2011/2012, 61% of bioscience postgraduate students were female while only 15% of professors were female. These figures indicate that there is a considerable problem with female retention in the academic biosciences, which must be urgently addressed.

Although the representation of women at higher levels of the academic biosciences is slowly improving, with a 3% increase in female bioscience professors since 2007, other STEM subjects show a contrasting trend. I urge those involved in science and tackling diversity issues, to ensure that biology is not pigeon-holed as the science for women but ensure that it is included in discussion around improving gender balance in academia and science industries.

website_logoOne initiative helping to address this growing concern is the Gender Summits, bringing together policy makers and academics in a series of events dedicated to supporting and advancing excellence and effectiveness of research through the inclusion of gender. The 4th summit ‘From Ideas to Markets: Excellence in mainstreaming gender into research, innovation, and policy’ is being held in Brussels at the end of this month and will focus on Horizon 2020. There’s a lot of money at stake in the Horizon 2020 scheme and the new rules ensure that women are at the centre of the decisions on how it should be spent.

The Society of Biology is committed to promoting equality in the workplace and, as such, we are working to support both our members and the wider STEM community. Providing career advice is central to the Society of Biology’s support for those at all stages of their education or career and by working with universities and other institutions, we can ensure that bioscience students receive excellent support, skills training and mentoring. From our degree accreditation programme to careers services to lobbying Government, we are here to help the next generation of bioscientists.

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