TACKLING STEREOTYPES IN STEM

TACKLING STEREOTYPES IN STEM

Dr Mhairi Crawford, Development Director of the WISE campaign, explains why and how we can support more women into top-quality apprenticeships.
Dr Mhairi Crawford on August 2, 2018

Dr Mhairi Crawford, Development Director of the WISE campaign, explains why and how we can support more women into top-quality apprenticeships. 

With so much political focus on apprenticeships at the moment, we have a great opportunity to change tired perceptions of them. We need to move away from the view that they’re a second-rate alternative to university and focus on their benefits.

This means tackling gender stereotypes. Women make up 23% of the STEM workforce in the UK but only 8% of STEM apprenticeships.  That’s quite a difference.  Take a moment to think about the opportunities that are being missed by women in the UK by not being aware of STEM apprenticeships and what you can do with them?

With there being so few women – just think how few we would need to support to consider a STEM apprenticeship to make a real change?  For example – it took only 320 additional starts in 2016/2017 for there to be a 7% growth in the number of women STEM apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships offer a tangible vehicle to support social mobility across the UK but particularly in areas experiencing deprivation.   Working towards high quality apprenticeships is key but alongside this, we also need to ensure that women apprentices are set up for success from selection criteria that doesn’t unconsciously discriminate through to appropriate PPE and changing facilities.  In recognition of this, last year we launched the Apprenticeship Toolkit in partnership with ICE and SEMTA, offering employers tools to help with the attraction, recruitment and retention of women STEM apprentices.   To date, we’ve had over 4,000 unique visits to the site and continue to build our case studies of employers showing best practice.

WISE highlight apprenticeships at our awards each year both for individuals and employers.  For inspirational women apprentices, we have two fantastic role models:

2017 WISE “One to Watch” award winner, Amy Mercer started as an apprentice with Pfizer and is now studying for her degree in Chemistry after attending a performing arts school.

2016 WISE “Rising Star” award winner Amy Hart now works for HMRC digital after finding out about their apprenticeship scheme from her local college library.

With women such as Amy and Amy representing apprenticeships and organisations such as the Sutton Trust and the Institute of Apprenticeships working towards higher quality apprenticeships and greater opportunities for social mobility, we have a real opportunity to change perceptions and support many more women into STEM apprenticeships.

WISE enables and energises people in business, industry and education to increase the participation, contribution and success of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).  We provide solutions from classroom to boardroom to address the gender imbalance across STEM careers.

See all of the Sutton Trust #BetterApprenticeships campaign guest blogs.