As science fiction concepts like artificial intelligence and space travel leap from Hollywood screens into our reality, it comes as no surprise that STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are driving innovation and will be essential for many jobs in the future.
But with technological advancements moving at an unprecedented speed, there’s a real concern that there won’t be enough STEM-qualified people to work in the jobs of the future. This issue is further exacerbated when considering that we are only really tapping into half of the worlds’ talent pool to fill these critical roles. The lack of gender diversity in STEM is a serious concern for employers and the overall STEM movement.
In the Philippines, girls make up only 43% of STEM enrolments. This is lower than in previous years and is mostly in non-engineering or non-IT fields, according to statistics from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
A recent national study around young Filipino’s understanding and perceptions of STEM, conducted by Unilab, PBCWE and YouthInsight, found that girls demonstrate similar interests in STEM subjects compared to boys at an early age and over 90% of both genders recognise the importance of STEM skills for future jobs. However, it was also found that girl’s consideration of enrolling in a STEM subject in higher education and taking on STEM careers is significantly lower compared to boys.
The study found that 73% of boys are considering a STEM subject for their tertiary education compared to 59% of girls. Boys were more likely to opt for engineering and computer science roles, while girls leaned towards health-related courses. Similarly, fewer girls (34%) reported wanting to pursue a STEM career compared to boys (55%).
One of the key factors influencing girls from pursuing STEM is a lack of confidence in their technology, engineering and mathematics skills. The study found that girls were significantly less confident in doing well in these subjects compared to boys. Even among women that do go into STEM careers, the issues around self-confidence unfortunately often follows them. A separate study conducted by Unilab and PBCWE titled, The WOMEN IN STEM – A baseline study found that a lack of self-confidence is a key constraint for women working in careers related to STEM, with some participants claiming that there is a need for women to do things way beyond what is expected of them. The study went on to find that this becomes a hindering factor for women to take on leadership roles in STEM.
The risks of not having enough girls as part of the STEM workforce are endless. To begin with, this will significantly impact women not having the skills necessary for the jobs of the future, which will only serve to widen the gender pay gap. The lack of gender diversity will also be to the detriment of further innovation in STEM. A study by Forbes found that close to 85% of large global enterprises believe that workforce diversity is critical in driving innovation and that teams with equal numbers of men and women generate on average 41% more revenue for their employer.  Equally important, is that if we start to tap into the world’s female talent pool, it will help tackle the ever-growing skills shortages impacting the STEM arena.
Thankfully, a lot is already being done to tackle this issue and studies like the one conducted by Unilab, PBCWE and YouthInsight help us have a better understanding of the root cause of the problem as well as to measure changes over time.
Stem+ PH in partnership with Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (PBCWE) and YouthInsight, the full-service research arm of Student Edge aim to understand and determine the interests, perceptions, and even barriers in STEM education and careers between male and female students to help them better understand their own future, as well as the future of humanity.
Read the report here.