The Issue

Ayra is a 15 year old pupil from Aberdeen and joined us at Equate Scotland for a week to learn about our work and wider gender equality issues. Here she talks about her views on the “leaky pipeline”, why it matters to her and what she has learnt. 

STEM careers are undeniably the future of society. With global temperatures reaching alarming levels and space exploration peaking, the need for a strong STEM workforce has never been so desperate. STEM careers are some of the fastest growing occupations, and with endless opportunities for growth and learning and great salary expectations you would think that the population would run towards them. Unfortunately, only half of us are. This is due to a concept known as the leaky pipeline.

A leaky pipeline is a system that is flawed and therefore it loses significant quantity of the “thing” it transports. It is an analogy for the adverse ways in which society shapes women so that they lack the confidence or desire to follow particular career paths, which ultimately leads to the under-representation of women in certain industries, especially in high-level positions.

“Women have seen no employment growth in STEM jobs since 2000,” a 2014 Forbes study found.

By the time children reach the age of three, the unconscious gender bias of society can already begin to sink in. By age 11, genders are often defined by others and self defined through stereotypes of colour and interests. It is at this age that boys continue to develop their passion for STEM subjects and studies indicate that girls begin to lose interest. This is the leaky pipeline; the outside factors that makes girls question themselves, their ability and their gender.

This leaky pipeline flows through university, where 17.8% of women are computer science undergraduates and only 15.8% are engineering and technology undergraduates. What’s alarming about this is that at National 4 and 5, 50% of girls take science subjects and outperform boys. So, why then do men make up 75% of the STEM workforce?

STEM subjects have been seen as predominantly masculine for centuries, and so the bias within society is one that has been thriving for generations. To eradicate this bias, we need to start at the root; gender stereotypes from birth or the “early years”. Instead we encourage girls and boys to read all types of books, play with all kinds of toys (tractors as well as dolls), study any subjects, and consider a variety of occupations and, ultimately, be valued by society by their actions not based on their gender. By removing bias, we remove the leaky pipeline … and we open up a lifetime of opportunities for millions of women in STEM.

For all these reasons, this issue really matters to me.