Promoting gender parity in STEM: Empowering women for success
According to the World Economic Forum's 2023 Gender Parity Report, our country ranks 6th in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a gender parity score of 68.2%, just below the global weighted average of 68.3%. However, when it comes to female representation in STEM fields, the numbers are far from satisfactory, with only 13% of our country's STEM graduates being women.
This has resulted in a dramatically low number of women working in the STEM field as well as a lack of representation in key leadership positions
The M&L Lab at Bureau Veritas is an example of an environment where women in STEM have found their voice and continue to drive positive change in our field. 55% of the employees M&L Lab are women. Moreover, it is worth noting that 81% are in management or strategic positions, making them an integral part of the business
While I hold an optimistic outlook for South Africa's future, the current state of STEM education and representation in the country is a cause for concern. The root of this issue lies at the primary school level, where our foremost priority should be to cultivate an engaging, accessible, and captivating learning environment for mathematics and science.
By instilling a sense of excitement and curiosity in STEM subjects from an early age, we can lay the foundation for a steady stream of competent and well-equipped graduates in the years to come. It is imperative that we invest in initiatives that make STEM education an enjoyable and rewarding experience, enabling young learners to develop a passion for these fields and contribute to the nation's progress in the long run.
One of the main challenges in encouraging more women to pursue STEM careers is the perception that these fields are predominantly for men. Overcoming this stereotype and promoting women in STEM roles can be achieved in four ways:
- Mentorship and guidance: Mentors play a crucial role in shaping the careers of individuals. I can personally attest to the positive impact of having mentors who focus on both technical skills and personal development. Encouraging experienced professionals, especially women, to mentor and guide young women interested in STEM can be a game-changer.
- Peer groups: Creating supportive and inclusive peer groups for women in STEM can foster a sense of belonging and encouragement. Sharing experiences, challenges, and successes within such networks can boost confidence and motivation.
- Salary competitiveness: Recognising and rewarding the contributions of women in STEM fields by offering competitive salaries can enhance their retention in the workforce and encourage more women to pursue STEM careers.
- Working Conditions: Creating a conducive and inclusive work environment that promotes work-life balance, equal opportunities, and a sense of fulfilment can make STEM careers more attractive to women.
To ensure gender parity in STEM fields, succession planning is crucial, where there should be a pipeline of capable women ready to take on leadership roles. This requires targeted support and mentorship for women, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to build their self-confidence and career aspirations. Empowering girls and women through education is another important factor, as it helps break down barriers and stereotypes. By providing access to quality education and exposure to successful women role models in STEM, confidence and determination can be instilled in young minds.
While South Africa has made significant strides in gender parity overall, the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields remains a concern. In addition to government support and policies, including funding programs for STEM education, scholarships and grants, collaboration within the industry, sharing best practices, implementing diversity and inclusion policies, and addressing the brain drain issue can create a more robust and sustainable STEM workforce. Together, we can break down barriers and empower women to thrive in STEM careers, contributing to the growth and development of our nation.