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Advancing women in STEM for the future of work

Stories Videos /06 February 2019

Advances in technology continue to revolutionize the way millions of people live and work. They  are about to cost millions of people their careers. In South East Asia alone, about 137 million salaried employees are at risk of job displacement within the next 20 years.

No matter what industry you’re in, it’s clear that science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is the language of the future. Everyone needs to level up their skills or risk becoming obsolete in the workforce.

In this highly STEM-dependent world, where do girls and women stand?

State of women in STEM

Female representation is low at all levels of the STEM career pipeline—from interest and intent, to majoring in a STEM track in college and having a career in a STEM field. Across South East Asia, while women outnumber men in higher education enrollment, the numbers fall short when it comes to STEM-related disciplines. Among the students surveyed by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2016, only one in six that said they were majoring in STEM courses are women.

Women are also at more risk of losing jobs than men as we move towards increased automation.  The impact is expected to be hardest on those in the textile, clothing and footwear industries, which predominantly employ young women. In the Philippines, where women make up more than half of the business process outsourcing (BPO) workforce, about 89% of salaried BPO workers are at high risk of being displaced by software automation.

Women represent a large untapped resource of technology talent.  With the technology industry booming, more and more jobs will need skilled workers to be at the forefront of innovation. Building a pipeline of young women entering STEM would change the face of technology, bringing in more diverse sets of skills and ideas.  

How then can we help girls and women acquire the STEM skills needed to thrive in today’s economy, so they are able to compete for the jobs of the future?

Creating pathways to STEM education

Women in STEM represent a large untapped resource of technology talent.

Women in STEM represent a large untapped resource of technology talent.

STEM education is key to bridging the gender gap in technology and ensuring girls and women can thrive in a highly digitised world. However, biases, stereotypes and beliefs that STEM is more of a “man’s world” are discouraging young women from pursuing STEM-related careers. Studies have shown that girls as young as 6 years of age are already less likely to believe that they are as intelligent and capable as boys. As a result, they are less inclined to be interested in STEM subjects.

There is a real challenge in changing the perception of young girls, so they gain confidence in their ability to succeed in STEM. Investing in Women is working with partners in providing girls and women in South East Asia the tools to pursue STEM education, as well as in building and nurturing a community that supports young women in STEM.

Such partnerships have led to the launch of “STEMpower Our Girls” and “Investing in the future of young Pinays” campaigns in the Philippines, which aims to develop a new generation of women leaders in STEM and other non-traditional careers for women. These campaigns focus on educating young girls about the benefits and opportunities offered by STEM, exposing them to female trailblazers in STEM spheres so they are guided and inspired to create tangible and achievable career goals in STEM.

Another campaign launched to empower women in Indonesia for the future of work is the #TanamkanKepercayaan (“Building trust”) campaign. This initiative challenges traditional gender roles and negative stereotypes to influence changes in female labour force participation—that is to build women’s trust in themselves and the business community’s trust in women.

Harnessing technology to benefit all

To face the workplace of the future, we need to equip everyone—girls and boys, women and men alike—with new and advanced digital and technical skills. Equal access to STEM education and opportunities will help bridge the tech gender gap. We can upskill current and future workers by encouraging them to develop positive mindsets and dispositions to deal with real-world problems in a technological society.

When we empower girls and boys to think critically about ways to solve problems, they will eventually bring a new dimension and diversity to their work. When girls and women thrive in STEM and become equal participants in the technological revolution, we can look forward to a strong future of learning and innovation that benefits all.

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