Despite the fact that more women are studying technical subjects at higher education level, the number of women in the UK currently following careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) is depressingly low at less than 15%. Assistant Professor at NMITE Pooh Ling E can’t help but wonder if a change to the working environment would help and encourage more women to enter these industries, here she assesses the factors.
A more female-friendly workplace
Some young women who have completed further education in science, technology or engineering subjects find the work environment they enter as graduates to be very male-dominated and in some cases quite intimidating. This can lead to dissatisfaction at work, not progressing up the career ladder as they might and even career changes out of the industry.
Working from home, as the vast majority of people in all sectors including STEM have been doing since lockdown, can mitigate against this. While the challenges of working from home have been widely discussed since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, working from home can actually be hugely beneficial for young women in STEM careers especially. Not only can it help to build their confidence during the early-career stage, but it is also suitable for those who are more introverted and prefer to be an individual contributor at work rather than a team player.
Look for companies that let you work from home
Companies which allow and even encourage employees to work from home where possible in the long term will find that this is seen as an attractive incentive for young women establishing their careers in STEM.
At the mid-career stage, the flexibility of being able to work from home can be hugely attractive to those women who are juggling career and family, meaning that companies offering this are likely to retain more female employees than those that don’t. Many electronic engineering jobs and tasks, for example, especially those in design, as well as work in planning and conceptualisation phases can be done from home.
Companies need to provide flexible cultures and policies
Of course, working from home does not work for everybody, for example, those with young children in the home during the working day, and others who prefer to break up their working day with a commute, change of scenery and more varied lunch options. The crucial factor is that companies develop flexible cultures and policies that cater to different staff needs and preferences and can evolve as individual circumstances change over time. During lockdown, we saw more flexibility and tolerance for both female and male staff who have been balancing childcare and home-schooling responsibilities while working from home. This kind of support is crucial in encouraging more women into engineering careers and to stick with those careers long term.
Find the right work/life balance
In order for women to secure leadership roles in STEM companies, a huge amount of time needs to be invested at work as well as out of hours, and this is particularly challenging when working in a global organisation requiring meetings to be attended with multiple teams working across different time zones. Being able to do at least some of this from home would be hugely beneficial to women and would result in fewer changing careers.
Current challenges to overcome
One challenge to working from home is how to protect intellectual property outside of the office space and secure corporate VPN and cloud storage connections. Developing a “Work from home” policy that includes measures for protecting company information is one achievable solution and one that is well worth making given that the prize is more women entering and staying in the industry and contributing their attentiveness and tenacity which make them great assets.