Monday, June 2, 2014

UK's 'Your Life' Campaign: Government, Industry, and Universities' Concrete Steps to Recruiting Women in STEM


In early May the UK launched its ‘Your Life’ campaign, a new STEM initiative focused on spreading the message that science and math are the pathway to a successful and well-paid career*. The initiatives concrete goals are to:
  • Increase the total number of students studying A-level Maths and Physics by 50% over the next three years.
  • Double the proportion of undergraduate engineering and technology degrees that are taken by women to 30% by 2030 and increase the numbers taking these degrees overall.
  • Increase the number of women in STEM careers (no clear numbers/benchmarks are assigned to this goal)

Over 170 businesses, universities, schools, and other organizations have signed personalized pledges stating specific steps each company/organization will take to support these goals. The numerous pathways/programs fall under three main categories:
  • STEM companies are providing financial support for a new scheme called ‘Maths and Physics Chairs’ to recruit post-doctoral graduates to become science and math teachers, particularly for 14-16 year old students. This will inject teachers with top-level expertise at this critical age when girls are choosing non-STEM trajectories. 
  • New partnerships between universities and STEM companies to provide additional internship opportunities and improve targeted recruitment of women into STEM companies. 
  • Universities and STEM companies have pledged to identify women in STEM role models from within their organizations and provide support for these role models to participate in career panel discussions, classroom visits, online webinars, etc. The primary audience for these role model interactives will be 14-16 year olds as well as undergraduate students. 


Below are a few examples of different companies specific pledges:
  • L’Oreal commits to £155,000 in fellowships and support for female scientists for the next two years
  • Airbus commits to recruiting circa 25% women engineers as a priority for this year
  • Arup will double the proportion of female apprentices to 30% by 2030
  • GE will increase the number of science and technology ambassadors to 500 by 2015 (aiming for 30% of these to be women)
  • BP will launch a new employee volunteering web based tool in Summer 2014 to reach 10,000 employees, enabling them to engage with 190 schools
  • Microsoft will train and mentor 180 female undergraduates over the next 12 months
  • Royal Holloway, University of London will launch a Department of Engineering and new Electronic Engineering degree program, opening in 2017, designed from the outset to be female-friendly
  • The Science Museum will deliver a three-year exhibition that will inspire young people to think engineering could be for them

The initiative cites the following statistics in its motivation to focus efforts on 14-16 year olds:
  • Although a similar number of girls and boys in the UK take the Physics GCSE (a total of 150,000), by A-level this has dropped to just 25,000 boys and 7,000 girls. Note that 7,000 girls is equal to 2% of girls at that age. 
  • Digging deeper, half of mixed state schools had no girls studying A-Level Physics in 2011
  • In addition, only 8% of girls take A-level maths, and fewer than 20% of all students study math at age 18. 
  • Finally, fewer than 1 in 10 UK engineering professionals are female. 

Are there STEM recruitment programs in the U.S. that have this same level of coordination between universities, industry, and government? Are there other countries testing out similar models? 

Within our astronomy community, the AAS Employment Committee is working to develop and take advantage of partnerships with STEM companies to promote career pathways for our Ph.D.s. Much remains to be done, but at least the conversation is underway and initial steps are being taken. 

*For example, the White House report showing that women in STEM occupations earn 33% more than those in non-STEM occupations.