Girls in the UK are much more likely to consider a career in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) if they have a role model who inspires them, new research from Microsoft has found.
More than half (52%) of women aged 11-30 who looked up to either fictional or non-fictional people involved in STEM said they were interested in getting a job in the sector. Less than a third (32%) of women without a role model said they the same. A fifth more UK girls said they could imagine a career in STEM if they had a role model compared with those who don’t.
However, Microsoft’s survey, which documented the views of 11,500 young women in 12 countries across Europe, also revealed that two-in-five UK females who revealed an interest in STEM did not end up working in the field. It chimes with Microsoft research last year that showed girls in the UK become interested in STEM subjects just before the age of 11 but this drops sharply when they turn 16.
“Providing more girls with access to female role models is just one step in the right direction on our mission to dispel stereotypes associated with the tech industry and get girls excited about a career path in technology,” said Cindy Rose, Microsoft UK Chief Executive. “In tangible terms, this needs to come from curriculum reform and investment in programmes to expose more girls and young women to positive female role models and mentors who have been successful in their field.”
According to the European Commission, by 2020 there could be a shortage of 500,000 digital workers across the continent but less than one-in-three of the current ICT workforce are female. It is estimated that closing the gender gap in STEM would add €820 billion to the European Union economy by 2050.
Microsoft’s research focused on women with role models in film, literature and real-life, specifically researchers, developers and inventors, but excluding parents and teachers. Celebrities were seen as the least influential role models, while women working in STEM roles were rated has having the most impact.
Among young women in the UK who have a STEM role model, there is a 12% rise in interest in all the subjects in the field, the study revealed. They are also more likely to see themselves as high performers across the range of STEM subjects, but most notably in maths, and see the value of hands-on experience in those lessons.
However, the girls also said they would like more encouragement from their family and are currently driven by their confidence in equality.
All the UK findings were largely in line with European trends.
The research has been released to coincide with Microsoft’s “Changing the Face of STEM” event in Brussels on April 25, which will bring together inspirational role models from across Europe to discuss new ways of making STEM topics more engaging in the classroom.
The European Commission found that 90% of all jobs already require some level of digital literacy, yet 44% of all Europeans lack even basic digital skills.
Microsoft has launched a digital skills programme in this country to ensure the UK remains one of the global leaders in cloud computing, artificial intelligence and other next-generation technologies. The company will train 30,000 public servants for free in a range of digital skills; committed to making sure everyone in the UK has access to free, online digital literacy training; launched a Cloud Skills Initiative, which will train 500,000 people in advanced cloud technology skills; and recruit an extra 30,000 digital apprentices through its own programme for its network of 25,000 partners in the UK.
“Women represent just 30% of Europe’s ICT workforce. Simply put, the industry is overlooking an important untapped resource, and the sooner we develop a strategy to empower young UK women in STEM, the better we can prepare for and shape the future,” Rose added.