Equate Scotland’s Director, Talat Yaqoob, reviews the updated Tapping All Our Talents report on whether progress has been made in the 6 years since the original report release. Read the full report here

Equate Scotland had the opportunity to once again be on the development group leading the research on Women in STEM by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The group included well respected names from across science, business and academia, and Equate Scotland was there to represent the voices of women working in or studying STEM.

The original report was a turning point in 2012 and to this day, the data and recommendations are used to instigate change across the STEM sectors. This reviews offers an opportunity to be candid about the level of progress made and how we take this further and faster. Here’s what the review found and what action we all now need to take:

The good news:

  • 30% of women graduates remain in the sector after graduating (and increase of 3%)
  • The proportion of women professors in maths grew to 10% (from 3%) and in chemistry grew from 5% to 10%
  • Women in core STEM professions grew from 13% to 23%

The bad news:

  • The number of young women studying SCQF levels 3-5 in computing has dropped by 14%
  • Across colleges and universities, numbers have had only incremental increases (in engineering an increase of 2%) or have suffered a decline (in IT courses in colleges a decrease of 11%)
  • The gender pay gap has seen only a 2% drop since the 2012 report (currently sitting at 16%).

A few key recommendations:

  • We need higher quality, disaggregated and intersectional data to know where women are in STEM and particularly know how the STEM labour market is working (or not working) for women of colour and disabled women.
  • We need a strategic and coherent approach to tackling gender stereotyping across early years and education.
  • We need to redress the balance of caring responsibilities which disproportionately fall on women’s shoulders and often mean they leave employment or are under-employed.
  • We need affordable and flexible childcare.
  • We need more employers to take proportionate positive action measures.
  • We need flexible working to become the norm and more quality, well paid part-time work.
  • We need to create inclusive workplace and education cultures free from discrimination and bias.
  • We need to move away from single intervention and have invested in, strategic interventions across the learning pipeline, which are evaluated to access their impact in increasing the number of girls taking STEM subjects.
  • We need educators to be more gender aware; in other words trained on gender equality and able to pursue this in the classroom.

So what next?

In order for Scotland to see necessary progress across the STEM sectors, the recommendations above and the findings, need to be taken seriously by all; whether educators or employers, whether CEOs or graduates. We must share the responsibility to create change, particularly change related to attitudes, bias and behaviour. The under-representation of women in STEM is a societal issue which is caused by deeply entrenched gender inequality but that inequality can be challenged by a swell of small actions taken by those within the STEM sectors and beyond, leading us to a tipping point towards society wide gender equality.

In particular, the report recommends that more employers pursue positive action measures. Women-only placements and training opportunities, returnships, networks and skills development for women, are all positive action measures which Equate Scotland can support employers to deliver. But we must tackle the in inaccuracies and misconceptions that sometimes surround positive action measures. Positive action is a route to tackle institutionalised inequality. Provided they are proportionate and utilised as an intervention to overcome evidenced under-representation, these measures are a legal and successful way to simply level a playing field that currently sets women back.

As Dame Anne Glover, President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, said at the launch of the review; “Across STEM we are haemorrhaging talent, specifically the talents of women, it’s unsustainable and must be met with action”

We look forward to increasing our work with educators and employers across Scotland to meet this challenge with the radical action it requires.