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Gender equality in STEM can support a sustainable economy. Here's how

Women must be at the forefront of this STEM revolution.

Women must be at the forefront of this STEM revolution. Image: Unsplash

Ebru Özdemir
Chairperson of the Board, Limak Holding
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Society and Equity

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • STEM jobs are set to be in demand and well paid in a sustainable future.
  • We must ensure the equal representation and inclusion of women.
  • STEM role models and education programmes can help bridge the gap.

We live in a rapidly changing world where vast technological advancements are announced almost daily. The so-called fourth industrial revolution is characterised by extraordinary technology and a digital transition. There is a rapid merging of the physical, digital and biological worlds. While this is a time of great opportunity and excitement for the future, we must ensure that we are moving forward in an integrated and inclusive way. Women must be at the forefront of this revolution and an emphasis on equality is necessary for success of this revolution.

As we take steps towards our future, it is clear our economy is set to be dominated by STEM industries at the heart of technology advancements, such as engineering and computer science. Moreover, these industries are projected to foster the fastest growth and highest paid jobs of the future. Research has found that a typical STEM worker already earns over double the amount of a non-STEM worker, and this trend is only set to continue.

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Closing the gender gap

Therefore, as we move forward with STEM industries leading the way, we must ensure that women and girls are no longer a minority, but instead widely represented at all levels. Eliminating stereotypical prejudices in engineering and supporting young girls who wish to study and work in STEM fields is more urgent than ever before. In the EU, there remains a substantial gender gap as only around 19% of ICT specialists and one-third of STEM graduates are women.

Globally, it is estimated that only 20% of engineering graduates are women, and women of colour still comprise less than 2% of all engineering professionals. The lack of representation spans across all levels, but women are particularly underrepresented in leadership: in technology women comprise about 24% of leadership roles and in infrastructure it is as low as 16%. These statistics are just not good enough and we must seize the momentum of the technological revolution to also revolutionise women’s positions in STEM.

STEM role models for women

To encourage the next generation of women to enter into STEM fields, they must be presented with role models who they can look up to for inspiration and they must be provided with all the tools needed to succeed in their chosen endeavours. Women are no less capable than men in science, technology, engineering, or maths but external factors are leading to women being excluded and a reinforced gender gap.

Influences such as gender stereotypes held by families or communities on the competence of girls in STEM, a lack of role models, and cultural factors all contribute to a reduced number of women gaining a STEM education or work. It is therefore important that when supporting girls into STEM we don’t just focus on the students themselves but consider their environment, culture, and background.

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STEM education programmes for women

This is the exact aim of Global Engineer Girls (GEG), which has just recently launched in Kosovo and North Macedonia. The GEG is helping to tackle the tide of inaction, inequality, and stigma. It's a global project, now operating in four countries, that educates, enables and empowers women to explore careers in STEM. While the programme focuses on supporting girls to obtain a STEM education, as well as career mentoring, GEG also works to tackle bias among girls’ families and communities. Without tackling bias and removing stigma surrounding women in STEM, progress will be slow.

There are numerous programmes like GEG that are doing vital work to make significant changes. GirlHype is another such an organization that aims to empower girls and youth in ICT in South Africa. Similarly, Girls Who Code, are working to close the gender gap in entry-level tech jobs by 2030 in the US, Canada, UK and India. Initiatives such as these are essential to empowering girls into STEM and ending gendered bias in the industry.

What more can be done to promote STEM?

Meanwhile, employers in STEM businesses should strive to attract and retain women to increase diversity. While this offers other women and girls essential role models to demonstrate that STEM subjects are inclusive and attainable, it also has wider benefits. Diversity of people brings with it diversity of thought and experience which are critical to innovation, creativity, good decision-making and ultimately profitability. Research shows that diverse teams are better at making decisions 87% of the time and diverse workforces of a company are 70% more likely to capture more markets which in turn drives profits.

Progress on women in STEM thus far has been slow and has not achieved nearly enough. Now is the chance to capitalise upon this technological revolution and drive forward our societies together, leaving no one behind. The world needs greater commitment and action on gender equality targets. The brilliant work of organizations like GEG or Girls Who Code are conducting ground-breaking work, but these initiatives cannot change the world alone. We must invest in and promote gender equality in business, government, legislation and culture for a sustainable, inclusive and future-proof economy.

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Institutional update

World Economic Forum

May 21, 2024

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