Encouraging STEM subject study to increase numbers of women working in technical roles in WET

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2022 Water, Environment & Transport Conference
16 February 2022

Research shows that at GCSE level engagement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects has a broadly similar gender split. At this level female students are achieving higher or equal average A*-C grades compared to males.

At A Level this drops off with a higher number of males taking up STEM subjects, for example only 20% of A Level physics students are female. Despite this, female students are outperforming males by gaining proportionally higher A*-C grades at A Level.

At Undergraduate level there is an even starker difference – the majority of Engineering and Technology and Computer Science students are male. The proportion of male undergraduates in these subject areas has remained stubbornly above 75% for at least the last five years.

This is a problem because the UK economy is losing talent which could be nurtured and developed. It is a particular problem for WET employers. Surveys show the number of women registered as engineers and technicians (i.e. CEng, IEng, EngTech) with professional bodies dropped from 6% to 5% of the total in 2017. The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, at less than 10%, while Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus lead with nearly 30%.

The lack of women in technical roles in WET employers contributes to some very wide gender pay gaps, for example, Affinity Water Ltd has a gap of 29.2 %. This compares with the gap for all employees in 2021 of just over 15%.

UNISON wants to see more women in technical jobs in WET. Research by Mckinsey’s shows that gender diverse organisations outperform those with less diversity. Encouraging females into fields where they have talent will help to stimulate growth in STEM workplaces. It will also have a positive impact on gender pay gap/s.

Early work with girls in schools has demonstrated that it can encourage their participation in STEM subjects and retain those who show a talent. Bursaries and sponsorship are also proven ways to encourage uptake of a subject. Apprenticeships in STEM areas, promoted to women, also encourage uptake. This is important if we are to reduce the gender pay gap.

This conference therefore calls upon the WET Service Group Executive to:

1)Make closing the gender pay gap a priority in bargaining strategies with WET employers, aiming to get employers to examine their gender pay gap and develop action plans to close gaps, including

a) Outreach to schools to encourage girls to see the opportunities in a technical job and to study STEM subjects and

b) Bursaries and apprenticeships promoted to women WET organisations.

2)Work with the Labour Link to lobby the UK Government to promote STEM subject study to girls.