Despite the UK’s current uncertainty about Brexit, 2019 is looking hopeful for women in STEM roles.

According to the World Institute of Scientology Enterprise (WISE), 2019 will see the start of the UK’s target recruitment drive of 1 million women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics by 2020. This was announced by HRH Princess Anne at the 2018 WISE awards.

What can employers do to recruit more women in STEM roles this year?

– Remove barriers which prevent women from moving up through the ranks by promoting a supportive environment.
– Monitoring the increases in business performance, as a result of employing or progressing women, thus creating even more opportunities for women in the organisation.
– Improving the UK’s position as the lowest percentage employer of female engineers in Europe – at the moment only 24% of STEM roles are held by women.
– Recognising that science, engineering and technology are fundamental to the future of the planet, and women’s input at decision stages is essential to creating that new future.
– Making gender parity a mission. Employers must look at enticing women into their businesses because of what they can offer, rather than to just satisfy demographic needs.

How are these propositions achievable in a world still dominated by men?

We must start at the very root of what stops women from looking at STEM roles with confidence: education, stereotyping and perception.

Education is unfortunately still behind, as a 2017 study by Accenture showed that 57% of teachers, though openly championing gender parity, admitted to subconsciously stereotyping girls and boys in relation to STEM subjects. More than half of the parents surveyed also admitted to having tried to discourage their daughters from these subjects, fearing they would find it difficult to perform at a high level.

Such beliefs are deeply rooted, but the UK has made progress in the last year by working with schools to address this, to not only spark but, more importantly, retain girls’ interest in STEM at an early age.

The excellent programmes Stimulating Physics Network and the Further Maths Support Programme have helped schools to stimulate the engagement of girls choosing STEM subjects at A-level with an investment of £12.1m.

So, we’re addressing gender parity in schools by training our future stars early, but what about improving opportunities for advancement in the workplace?

What is being done by employers?

Let’s start at the recruitment level: companies all over the country are looking at staffing issues, like a lack of available talent, or women’s excitement about STEM roles. Clever employers are analysing the positive effect women in STEM are causing to their competitors’ businesses and are rethinking their strategies for the recruitment process, in order to attract more women.

They are also looking at retention and further training in support of these women, with retraining schemes and technical apprenticeship opportunities to facilitate their return to the workplace.

What 2019 will also see is the increase of successful mentoring amongst women, with more programmes like MentorSET, a successful mentoring scheme by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) that has been helping working women in STEM since 2002. Female peer to peer mentoring in the workplace is a fantastic tool for encouraging women to apply for senior-level positions with confidence.

A mentoring scheme for women is powerful in creating a work culture that supports and encourages progression and gender parity, including the cause of pay equality, which still favours men. Women supporting women to succeed can only be inspiring to our children, and raise interest at an early age.

What about Brexit?

2019 will see Brexit come into force so we must continue, with the government’s support, to champion women’s progression, creating the role models that young girls need so they can develop into future STEM stars.

The future is definitely looking bright for 2019; adding to the 900,000 women working in STEM roles, another 200,000 women with STEM qualifications will be entering the workforce in the next two years. This will bring the UK to over 30% of STEM roles belonging to women, a slow but definite improvement.

2019 is shaping up to be a year to celebrate the wonderful female role models currently working and studying in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and strive to create new ones by capitalising on the investment coming our way.

Whatever Brexit may bring, let’s focus on the UK and its heritage for manufacturing, which is a thriving, exciting and rewarding industry.

The women coming into the industry in 2019 will be finding solutions, embracing the latest technologies, developing and making the products that we all take for granted. The time is now to embrace the opportunities that leaving the European Union may bring to the UK by changing the perception of our country from a nation of shopkeepers, as Napoleon saw us, to a nation of innovators once more.