The STEM workforce continues to reflect a gender imbalance and shortfall of women. There have been significant improvements over the last five years, particularly with organisations such as WiSTEM Plymouth playing a crucial role. However the shortfall of women may be set to increase, following the Government recently announcing that companies, with 250 or more employees, will be obliged to publish information publically relating to their gender pay gaps. 

Gender Pay Gap

The Government recently confirmed that private and voluntary sector employers, with 250 or more employees, will be obliged to publish information publically in relation to their gender pay gaps (where employees work in Great Britain with a contract governed by UK law). The Government recently concluded its consultation on mandatory gender pay gap reporting, and a set of draft regulations have been published.

The regulations are due to come into force on 1 October 2016, with employers being required to include data from April 2017, followed by publication no later than April 2018. Although the date for publication is not imminent, employers should consider the impact of the regulations as soon as possible to allow enough time to address any issues or concerns.

Employers will be required to publish data on the overall mean and median gender pay gaps, the difference in mean bonuses and the proportion of men and women who receive bonuses, as well as having to divide their pay range into four pay bands and provide details of the gender split in each quartile of the organisation's pay distribution.

A recent survey highlighted the significance of the gender pay gap. Results confirm that for every £1 earned by a man in the UK, working part or full-time, a woman earns 81p. It takes the average woman 20 years longer to earn £1 million, reaching this at age of 70 compared to the age of 51 for a man.

Some employers may be unaware that they have a gender pay gap within their business. Employers should therefore take steps to identify whether the issues exist within their business and address them as a matter of priority. Rectification of the gender pay gap does not come without risk. Employers should be aware that attempts to address this issue, through altering pay structures, could expose them to multiple claims by disadvantaged employees. Equal pay claims can be expensive so employers should seek legal advice before taking any steps.

Women in STEM - Gender Pay Gap

The gender pay gap is reflected within the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related professions. A recent survey confirmed that the median basic income for male registered engineers and technicians (£55,000) is 19.7% higher than for females (£45,941).

Whilst the continued inequality of pay for women progressing in a STEM-related career remains problematic, employers should ensure any gender pay gap is resolved to avoid women being discouraged from the profession. Women are vital to fulfilling business needs and employers should be pro-active in encouraging more women into the STEM sector.

Women in STEM - Shortfall of Women

Women represent 47% of the UK workforce but only 13% of the STEM workforce are women.

The economy needs to maintain a significant uptake of the STEM-related profession, and women could play a crucial role in achieving this. If women were to participate more fully in STEM employment, there could be a potential contribution of £2 billion to the UK economy.

The STEM workforce continues to reflect a gender imbalance and shortfall of women. There are a number of reasons behind this under representation.

First, there is a perception that women are not interested in STEM-related professions and careers. However this could be as a result of school girls not being provided with enough information, encouragement and guidance about the opportunities available.

Additionally, the under representation may also be due to the fact that women are being put off careers in STEM because of pressures of family life combined with "biases" in the workplace. The assumption that only men aspire to achieve a STEM related career, the lack of employer flexibility for women having a greater share of family responsibilities, and the gender pay gap can all contribute towards women not being inspired to develop a career in the STEM workforce.

Nevertheless, over the last five years there have been significant improvements in attracting women into STEM careers and the manufacturing sector has continued to lead the way. In particular, Women in STEM Plymouth (WiSTEM) has been actively working towards improving the prospects for women.

WiSTEM

WiSTEM was formed in 2013 when the Plymouth Manufacturers' Group (PMG) identified 'increasing diversity in STEM' as a key objective to continue Plymouth's growing manufacturing and STEM economy. The voluntary leadership committee is represented by a range of local STEM employers. Taking the WiSTEM from strength to strength is the Chair, Emma O'Mara. Emma O'Mara is a Dockside Manager at Babcock International Group who is responsible for creating the framework for compliance with controlling the use of cranes, vehicles and flammable material.

WiSTEM has a mission to work actively towards tackling the gender stereotypes and deficiencies within STEM-related professions and careers. It continues to achieve and exceed its aim of promoting women's achievements for women in STEM roles across the city of Plymouth, as well as increasing female participation in STEM subjects through engagement with schools, colleges and public events.

More recently, WiSTEM held the workshop 'WISE People Like Me' to inspire girls between the ages of 11 and 14 to change their perceptions, build confidence and envisage themselves working successfully in a STEM career.

WiSTEM holds networking events once a quarter to bring together women and men who are passionate about increasing diversity within STEM subjects and careers. The events provide continued professional development for those already working in STEM, as well as an opportunity to find out more about the fascinating STEM advances which are happening in our area. Alongside this, WiSTEM acts as a platform for outreach with teachers, lecturers and careers advisors. It provides an insight into what STEM careers involve, details about the different pathways to entering STEM industries and information about how to achieve a successful career.

Conclusion

Research has suggested that businesses with a diverse workforce, and a greater share of women at board level, are more profitable. Businesses with a gender diverse workforce will stimulate innovation, increase knowledge within the business and create opportunities to market to a broader range of customers.

The issue of gender imbalance remains an issue and employers should not ignore the facts that women play a crucial role in their businesses, the future of STEM-related professions and the potential contribution to the economy. Employers should therefore be pro-active in promoting more women into STEM, whilst taking precautionary steps to address gender pay gaps.

Employers who are likely to be affected by mandatory gender pay gap reporting should start to consider their pay structure imminently. Employers must take into consideration that any communications and documents concerned with reporting will be disclosable in any future pay-related employment tribunal proceedings, unless they satisfy legal privilege. In light of this, employers should seek legal advice before any rectification action is taken.