The recent coverage of International Women’s Day (IWD) 2014 not only raised awareness of female equality, but also served up the perfect opportunity to support and celebrate women in STEM careers.

The British Science Association (BSA) used the day to talk about how women scientists and engineers have traditionally been overlooked and underrepresented in STEM roles and the importance of reversing this trend to redress the gender balance. According to the BSA, steps in the right direction are being made, with its CREST awards programme for 11 to 18-year-olds seeing a 50:50 gender split. The BSA argues though that this early enthusiasm isn’t being harnessed to achieve maximum potential, with interest in STEM subjects by girls ultimately dwindling due to lack of encouragement by parents, teachers and even the wider community.

It’s by no means a secret that there is indeed a shortage of women in the UK holding jobs in STEM roles – particularly when you examine the top most rungs of the career ladder – and that companies have for a long time struggled to fill key positions in these fields. Although IWD has wonderful intentions and serves as an ideal platform on which to spark the debate, this is not a problem that can be solved in the mere 24 hours the day affords. The Government needs to take responsibility for tightening up the current education system, placing an emphasis on encouraging more women into STEM roles, as a result shoring up the future of the UK economy.

Businesses should certainly play their part too, taking the initiative to capitalise on high-profile events such as IWD if they are to dip their toes into the STEM talent pool and attract more women into careers in the sectors where they’re desperately needed, which include accounting and finance, IT, science, technology, manufacturing and construction.

But equally, they need to take a long-term view and can do no better than helping to foster a healthy and favourable attitude by girls to STEM subjects from a young age. It’s therefore essential that recruitment starts early, with girls tending to shy away from science and maths subjects while still in full-time education. Businesses should take the time to specifically target school pupils with a passion for the STEM subjects by inviting them to open days and seminars, working with educational bodies and offering work experience placements and internships for school leavers and undergraduates. It’s opportunities like these that allow people to get a real feel for a company’s culture, while exploring whether a STEM career is right for them.

Businesses can make the most of this tactic by visiting schools, providing talks by key speakers that place emphasis on the merits of taking up STEM subjects, using inspirational, real life role models. This should be supported properly though, as otherwise uptake will remain slow if the proper resources aren’t also made available, such as mentoring programmes, training tools, grants and apprenticeship schemes.

There’s little doubt that this sensible approach will bring to the table a more equal mix of men and women in STEM roles at graduate, apprentice and career level. This should mean that businesses will no longer have to fight over the same candidates for roles, thus ensuring the future of the UK jobs market, and the precious contribution the STEM sectors make, for years to come.

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