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Farry opens STEM gender imbalance seminar

Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry today opened a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) seminar focusing on gender imbalance within some industries.

The seminar, called, ‘Are you getting the balance right?’ was organised by the STEM Business Group in conjunction with the Equality Commission. The Business Group aims to work with local business leaders to help them address gender imbalance within their companies.

Speaking at Malone House, Belfast, the Minister said: “On leaving school, females tend to be better qualified than males. Females are also more likely to progress to higher education with around 60% of our university enrolments being female. However, females account for less than 30% of those graduating in STEM subjects, excluding medicine and health. We need to encourage young women to consider STEM subjects and careers.”

“Addressing the gender bias within STEM subjects at school, college, university and employment is an important issue for me. It is vital that we enthuse and inspire all our young people to study STEM courses and to progress to employment in the STEM related industries. To do this we must ensure that these sectors offer attractive employment opportunities, and that all young people are aware of the wide range of careers options available within these sectors.”

“The Executive’s Economic Strategy identifies a number of priority growth sectors which include Telecommunications, ICT, Life and Health Sciences, Agrifood, Advanced Materials and Advanced Engineering. Future growth in jobs will be concentrated in these areas and we must ensure equitable access by gender to maximise our local pool of available talent.”

Joanne Stuart, chair of the STEM Business Group, said: “The importance of this issue to the growth of the STEM sector is borne out by the commitment of those attending to adopt good practice to improve the perception of their workplaces. We need to challenge the stereotypes and biases that still pervade our culture, particularly within the male dominated engineering and technology sectors. Attracting and retaining a more diverse workforce will maximise innovation, creativity, and competitiveness.”

Anna Carragher, Equality Commissioner, commented: “Today’s seminar will give employers practical guidance on how to create a gender diverse and inclusive workplace. Given the need for development of our skill base in Northern Ireland in STEM industries, it is plain that the under-representation of women in scientific and technical jobs is not simply a gender equality issue; it is a broader economic issue that has huge consequences for our future prosperity and growth. Making organisations more attractive and accessible to women will help address skills shortages in the STEM sector by increasing the pool of talent available to employers.”

Notes to editors:

1. The Northern Ireland Economic Strategy highlights the fact that for many of the industry sectors which are going to contribute to economic growth, there will be a heavy reliance on a future workforce with STEM skills. The Strategy is available from http://www.northernireland.gov.uk/ni-economic-strategy-revised-130312.pdf

2. The UKCES report from 2011 ‘Gender and skills in a changing economy’ notes that cccupational segregation continues to exist. Women represent 15.5 per cent of science, engineering and technical professionals in the UK. Among 468,580 engineering professionals, only 6.9 per cent were women. Among 457,640 ICT professionals, only 14.4 per cent were women (UKRC, 2011). In a 2007 analysis of labour force statistics the UK was found to have the lowest percentage of female professional engineers out of 28 European countries (8.7 per cent) (WISET, 2010).

3. Jobs in STEM-related industries currently account for 11% of total employment, with the ratio of male to females being 3 to 1. In further education some 25% of male participants are studying science and mathematics, engineering and manufacturing technologies or ICT, compared to only 13% of females. In higher education, over 70% of students in computer science and over 75% of those studying engineering and technology are male. Female participation in higher education is skewed towards social studies, languages, education, subjects allied to medicine and agriculture and related subjects.

Belfast Telegraph