From education to employment

Unlocking Opportunities: The Path to Diversity and Representation in STEM through Further Education and Career Advancement

Tara McGeehan

Sparking Interest in STEM

For many years now, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of diversity and representation in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). From early childhood education to careers at every stage, efforts are being made to ensure that women and girls from all backgrounds have equal opportunities to participate and excel in these critical fields. Yet inequality stubbornly remains and more still needs to be done to address this.

STEM skills are crucial to every industry and the demand is only increasing. However, we are faced with a current shortage and a future pipeline of the necessary experience to fully exploit the opportunities they present and how these skills can shape innovations and increase productivity and economic prosperity. It is insufficient to focus on only later stages and higher education, and on reskilling existing workforces.

The journey towards diversity and representation in STEM needs to begin in early childhood education and efforts must remain consistent throughout a child’s academic career. Initiatives such as STEM-focused preschool programmes and outreach efforts targeting underrepresented communities should be as common today as learning the three ‘R’s’- reading, writing and arithmetic; the three basic skills that have been taught in schools since the 19th century. STEM-focused programmes should aim to spark interest and curiosity in young minds and demonstrate how a career in STEM can be rewarding and long-lasting. Many organisations focus on inspiring young minds in these subjects and are instrumental in providing resources and support to encourage children to pursue STEM from their early years. However, so much more can be achieved with a stronger collaborative effort between academia, and the private and public sectors.

Ensuring access to quality STEM programmes remains paramount as students progress through primary and secondary education. There is much evidence pointing to gender stereotypes being one of the main barriers that deter girls from choosing a career in STEM and that the chipping away at the gender bias towards STEM starts in childhood. There are ongoing efforts to diversify the curriculum, provide mentorship opportunities, and help dismantle stereotypes. But we must collectively look for ways to inspire young women and girls through the national curriculum, community outreach programmes and the Tech industry as a whole bringing STEM to young people in unique ways through their own volunteering and outreach programmes. By holding up the many, brilliant examples of pioneering women and girls who are trailblazers in these fields’ aspirations can be built.

Advancing Diversity in Higher Education

As young women advance to higher education, universities and colleges are implementing many initiatives to increase diversity in STEM programmes. Scholarships, mentorship, and targeted recruitment and industry sponsorship efforts can help to attract and retain students in under-represented groups. And increasingly these institutions are fostering inclusive learning environments where all students are valued and supported. There must also be a clear route to industry career opportunities which can be demonstrated through closer alignment to industries and organisations which focus on STEM careers, to encourage young people to see an exciting future.

Fostering Diversity in Professional Settings

However, we must ensure that our commitment to supporting women in STEM does not stop at education. In the working world, the focus shifts to advancing diversity and representation in the professional workforce. Whether a person is at the beginning of their career, entering at a later stage in life, or returning to work after a career break; organisations should provide programmes that support everyone and offer opportunities to retrain and reskill. Companies that recognise the importance of diverse teams in driving innovation and problem-solving are always more successful and are more able to recruit and retain staff by providing opportunities for career advancements.

Despite progress, challenges remain in achieving full diversity and representation in STEM for women and girls. Persistent barriers such as systemic biases, limited access to resources, and lower representation in leadership roles continue to impede progress. Addressing these challenges requires sustained commitment by policymakers, educators, employers and communities alike.

Looking to the future it is imperative to continue investing in initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion at every stage of the STEM pipeline. By fostering environments where individuals from all backgrounds feel empowered to contribute and succeed, we can unlock the full potential of STEM and drive meaningful societal impact.

The journey towards diversity and representation spans from early childhood education to late-stage careers. Through concerted efforts across all stages of the STEM pipeline, we can create a more inclusive and equitable future where women and girls, and indeed everyone, have the opportunity to thrive and contribute to the advancements of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

By Tara McGeehan, President CGI UK and Australia

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