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Hot topic: More women in STEM

How can business and education make STEM subjects and jobs more appealing to girls?

Recent research has revealed gender stereotypes are still prevalent in the classroom, with more boys than girls selecting STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. How can business and education make STEM subjects and jobs more appealing to girls?

The prevalence of gender stereotypes in A-level choices is having a major impact on the technical professions. Faced with such a widespread challenge it is vital these industries attract women from a young age to help dispel preconceptions that certain jobs are ‘male’.

Engineering companies have had this issue for decades and there is no quick-fix solution. Taking STEM jobs to women rather than expecting them to find us is key. AECOM regularly visits schools to open children’s minds to the exciting possibilities of engineering. We don’t just target older students – our engineers often visit primary schools in order to help ignite imaginations from an early age. Often, explaining the exciting contribution engineers make to creating a better world helps.

Our female engineers take part in these visits to show women are enjoying STEM careers. People often think engineers only work in dirty overalls so it’s important to dispel that image – our industry offers an incredible range of technical roles.

STEM-related work is certainly not gender specific, yet I suspect its current image is putting many female candidates off. Engineering is about problem-solving and requires so much more than STEM skills alone.

When we review CVs we look for attributes such as leadership, communication and creativity in addition to technical knowledge, which often helps widen the field. We also involve our female colleagues in the candidate assessment process.

With the requirement for such a broad range of skills, improved gender diversity can only benefit the industry. The greater the diversity, the better the outcome.

I’d like to see collaboration between businesses and schools to tackle the problem. Without a concerted effort the technical industries will struggle to break down gender stereotypes and recruit the diverse workforce critical to success.

Charlie Weatherhogg is HR director at global engineering firm AECOM

Check back tomorrow for part two of this Hot Topic