Reported by The Conversation – the news we share raises awareness of equality issues being reported in the media.
Like much of the world, Scotland has a problem with gender equality when it comes to science, technology, engineering and maths.
From a very young age, outdated assumptions about who is suited to STEM subjects often mean girls are steered away from them. Those who do pursue them in school and university face many barriers in their careers that lead to the notorious “leaky pipeline”, where women are seen in lower and lower proportions at every stage of seniority.
This is a huge issue not just for women but also for the economy. There is increasing demand for STEM professionals but a significant shortfall in young people graduating with the relevant qualifications. But things will never change if half the population is not being encouraged to engage with these subjects in the first place.
Challenging the status quo
In 2012, the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) launched the Tapping All Our Talents report (TAOT), which was a comprehensive evaluation of the status quo, and a call to action for government, academia and business across Scotland. So what has changed since then? Has progress been made in addressing these issues? Is the high-profile debate of gender issues in the media these days feeding into positive action for women in STEM?
In March 2018, the RSE, together with the Young Academy of Scotland, launched TAOT 2018 to explore these questions, and the resulting report was published in November 2018. As well as looking back at the targets set in 2012 and analysing how the field is changing for women, TAOT 2018 also broadened the scope of its enquiry.
In the intervening six years it has become clear that gender equality can only be achieved through a fundamental shift in the way society perceives the place of women in STEM and the stereotyping issues that put them off. The report looked not only at women already working in STEM and studying in higher education, but also at girls in school, from secondary to early years.
One of the most potent images from the 2012 report was the leaky pipeline graph, showing how the percentage of women engaged in STEM subjects dropped at every stage from standard grade to professorial level. The graph below shows the ratio between the 2008 figures (which the 2012 report was based on) and 2018, and the good news is that things are looking up.