The purpose of our longitudinal study is to develop ongoing insights into girls studying STEM and women pursuing STEM careers, in response to the continuing statistics evidencing the underrepresentation of women in STEM, stereotypical environments and double standards.
Our 2016 survey of 163 women between the ages of 15-46 representing 16 different countries world wide, focused on developing insights into the current experiences of girls studying STEM at college and University, using a mixed methods approach. So far data from our 2016 survey has found significant links between early childhood interests and future STEM career plans, the significant role of unrelated female models in helping reduce attrition from STEM later on in life, confidence levels drop in the second year of college, computer Science has one of the highest attrition rates, and the impact of different subjects and professional confidence in relation to future plans.
This series analyses the impact of age and country of residence on confidence getting a job in STEM.
The bar graph below shows the age scale of participants on the horizontal axis and the average confidence scores of ‘getting a job’ from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest on the vertical axis.
Results indicate that professional confidence peaks to a score of 5 in the first year of College at the age of 16 and slowly declines throughout this time period, continuing into the first year of University at the age of 19 reaching a much lower 3.3 confidence level. As our previous research identified this lack of confidence may be correlated with the lack of female role models for young girls to ‘relate’ to, making the STEM environment a more ‘masculine’ place where girls struggle to ‘identify’ and ‘find a place’ thus, in return professional confidence ‘ takes a hit’.
“Actively show stories of women leading successful tech projects, Give them as much attention as male scientists” (participant 111).
After the age of 20, confidence levels ‘pick up’ and stay at an average score of 4 throughout the 20’s. However there is a dip in this confidence of 20% at the age of 28. This may be due partly to limited work life family balance options amongst the STEM profession, which other research has acknowledged plays a role in attrition from STEM, particularly amongst women. Furthermore, other research suggests girls in College also feel that they will have to ‘give up’ having children for their STEM careers, suggesting that for women they see a trade off between their career in STEM and having a family, they feel the options to do both are lacking.
There is another sharp peak in confidence at the age of 32 to a confidence score of 5. A number of interrelating factors here could be contributing to these confidence levels; women in their 30’s may have transitioned careers and have already established their work life balance ‘norms’ giving them more control. It may also be that these women chose not to start a family and as a result have more time to focus on their careers. This isn’t to say women can’t do both, it is possible that different companies and different family dynamics mean women have children and maintain and progress in their career. Women in their 30’s may have worked exceptionally hard to establish their place within the workforce. Future research should explore whether age and confidence levels correlate with length of time in current job.
Results from the graph also indicate a sharp decline in participants aged 41 from 5 to 2.5 at 46. Again there are a number of possible factors that need to be explored before making conclusions; Covert sexism, where the masculine nature of the workplace may see even more gender disparity when it comes to women wanting to move up the ranks into senior positions, when the opportunity comes for a promotion research suggests they are more likely to get overlooked for their male counterparts, more women on the boards and in leadership positions may help address this.
“Equal pay and seeing more female role models in higher ranked positions” (participant 86).
Overall these findings would indicate that girls start off with higher confidence in their younger College years and this confidence slowly declines until they reach their 30’s. There are a number of possible interrelating factors which could answer for this; University is more atoned to the male gender, lack of female role models in senior and leadership positions, negative media about STEM professions and gender pay inequality may send a message to women that they are ‘not as good’ resulting in them questioning their own self worth when job hunting compared to their male peers.
This series also examined the role of geographical location on confidence getting a job
The graph below indicates the geographical locations of our participants. The largest representation is in North America, followed by Europe, Asia, Oceania and Africa.
The graph below indicates the average confidence levels of participants by their country of residence, with the lighter shade of blue indicating the lowest confidence levels and the darkest shade indicating the highest. Findings suggest that the UK, North America, Mexico, Vietnam and New Zealand have the highest confidence levels followed by Canada, Australia, South Africa, Kenya, India and Indonesia, with the lowest levels reported in Spain.
Does this suggest more Western societies are progressing and combating these stereotypes more than their non western counterparts? This may be ‘popular’ belief but in fact our results do not indicate this pattern nor does other research which has found that actually western and non-western societies do not dictate the level of representation and confidence of women in STEM; one way to compare gender equality and opportunities for women in STEM is to see statistically their representation across different STEM sectors and graduation from STEM degrees in different Countries. Research has found that some leading western countries have a much lower representation of women in STEM than in Muslim countries, and places like Indonesia (see this article). Therefore this would suggest that countries with the highest confidence levels are those where STEM education is most accessible to women. Reports have indicated that the Higher Educational sector in big economies such as the US, the UK and other parts of Europe have developed a vast amount of different educational routes with an array of programs developed for women’s ‘human centered approach’ such as the ‘Social Sciences’ ‘Nursing’ and ‘Child development’. In comparison, developing and transitional economies where acute shortages of educated workers have in turn prompted efforts by governments and development agencies to increase the supply of STEM workers (see article).
Therefore to increase confidence this would suggest that more encouragement by the government and policymakers for the uptake of STEM amongst these economies would help in the representation of women in STEM and increase confidence in this sector as a viable option for women to pursue.
“More outreach, more movements, more education” (participant 139).
Encouraging confidence and uptake of STEM
- College and Universities can help to encourage girls to take part in different preparational activities by holding different open evenings and information talks about different programs they can get involved with.
- More opportunities for international movement between Universities and job markets in STEM environments may help encourage women to participate whose countries lack incentives and opportunities; more scholarships, grants and internships.
- Government and policymakers need to make an effort to eliminate barriers for women in STEM and increase incentives for participation in Higher Educational STEM subjects.
We can change the future if we work together.
This has been the fourth in a series of exploration into the experiences of women in science, technology, engineering, or maths. Keep an eye out for more posts as we look at other influences affecting women’s careers.
Andrea Lewis, Molly Goodman, Raiya Al-Ansari,
Ad Hoc London explores audience needs in the UK. We routinely conduct UX and usability research in London, Southampton, Manchester, and Glasgow. We optimise information for laptops, tablets and smartphones so customers have the best possible user experience. We help clients benefit from understanding their audiences’ varying needs.