Encouraging and retaining women in STEM - an update from the Education action group

Greater Manchester has a very strong history of leading in Engineering and Technology and particularly of producing some of the most notable women experts in these career areas.


We are seeing more and more women choosing to study Engineering and Technology

…but not in Greater Manchester.

Data taken from the Higher Education Statistical Agency


The Greater Manchester area has seen increased development and large-scale regeneration over the last couple of decades and there are further big projects planned. The construction industry is well-invested in the area and is worth upwards of £3 billion, making up 6.8% of GM’s economy.


However, women are more underrepresented in construction apprenticeships in Greater Manchester compared to the UK as a whole



As part of the 6th February 2021 celebration event and Scorecard reveal, the GM4Women2028 Education team focussed on two key questions:

  1. How do we increase % women studying/ training in male-dominated subjects?

  2. How do we support and encourage these women to choose Greater Manchester?


What are students saying?


Dr Maria Pampaka and Dr Diane Harris, researchers at The University of Manchester and members of GM4Women2028, were two of our invited guest speakers. Their project ‘Researching Futures in Engineering’ gathered insight from 14-18-year olds on their perceptions of specific subjects and careers.


The project aim was to investigate the key factors which determined choices leading to Engineering degrees and vocational courses, with a particular focus on gender differences.


The project was conducted via surveying 14 to 18-year-olds across England using range of questions about their interests, their personality and their perceived abilities.


The team surveyed 3500+ students from 41 institutions




The team discovered some valuable insights; more girls than boys rated their ability in maths and (combined) science as average or below. Interestingly, girls were more confident in their ability on physics than chemistry or biology, whereas boys rated their ability in these subjects generally equivalently.


The majority of boys and girls aspired to pursue a university degree, girls more so. Boys had greater interest than girls in studying for an apprenticeship.

48% of girls reported they would not consider a career in engineering, compared to just 24% of boys.


How are STEM professionals encouraging girls’ future choices?


We heard from Deborah Kelly, the Head of Business Development at WISE who described the work her organisation are doing to support more women into STEM careers.



The WISE campaign, which has been running for over 30 years, supports industries in attracting and retaining women in their workforce and aims to improve women in leadership roles. The current priority area for WISE is women working in the Tech sector – this has seen no improvement over the last 10 years in terms of women’s representation, yet the tech sector has increased massively over this period.


The campaign target is for women to form 30% of the STEM workforce by 2030 – with a call for Manchester to be first to achieve this.


Recently, WISE in partnership with industry have developed resources to help achieve this, however, it is clear some problems appear more challenging than others. They have seen much progress in the wider adoption of flexible working but less progress in supporting women advancing further, with barriers being faced at middle management.


‘My Skills My Life’ was launched to support girls and encourage them to study STEM subjects after turning 16 years old. It is available for everyone and Deborah highly encourages people to share the ‘My Skills, My Life’ platform – a quiz for young girls to take online (or on paper) which matches them to real life role models with similar personality types, so they have the opportunity to see themselves in a range of STEM careers. Women in already in STEM can sign up to become role models too.


WISE also work with members in Schools and community settings, with role models going into classrooms (currently online) and delivering the programme in real life.


Now that there are 1 million women working in core STEM in the UK, WISE are also celebrating those women with the #1ofTheMillion campaign that any STEM women can get involved in and help celebrate this milestone and inspire future STEM women!


How can Schools become more inclusive environments for women and girls?


Nic Ponsford and Cat Wildman, Founders of the Global Equality Collective (GEC) presented how they have set out to embed inclusive practice.


Gaining 15,000 followers in just 3 years, the GEC have clearly recognised an area which has been calling out for support. The Collective is made up of academics, educators, change-makers, authors and other pioneers and has partnered with ‘Diverse Educators’ which represents almost 90 organisations. The aim was to learn and understand from a diverse set of voices, each with particular insight to work across all areas of early years to post-16.


Keen to show both boys and girls the female role models in STEM, the GEC website has a repository of over 360 book titles which have women in STEM as their main protagonists.

The GEC website also features profiles of real role models – women tech teachers to support more girls into technology.


Last year GEC launched a digital solution – the GEC App for schools to help them identify what they are doing well and what they need to address – solutions which can be used in homes and schools to create a more inclusive culture overall.


What do our attendees say?

We should stop selling tech as the stereotype of ‘a boy on a sofa, gaming’, and actually present what skills are needed in tech careers – project management, user research business analysis, product analysis – which women do really well but technology degrees don’t always reflect that. – Rachel

Women don’t want to fit in anymore, they want the work place to be designed equally for men and for women. This is something we need to lobby for everywhere
We don’t all want to become like men, so we mustn’t have to all think like men. That out-of-the-box thinking can be part of the prize that so many corporations get. – Clare

[speaking about women in STEM talent that we are missing out on] Universities in the UK do not accept degrees from universities unless the whole education is in English, when we think about equality in education, we shouldn’t just think women who were born in this country and think of the wider community – as we have seen in Manchester we have loads of people who have migrated from other countries. – Usma




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