How do we encourage more women to get into STEM?

A recent report published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, Diversity Landscape of the Chemical Science, put together some of the available evidence about the current state of diversity in the chemical sciences, with the particular focus on the United Kingdom. Specifically, three different parameters were taken into account: gender, disability and minority ethnicity.

Disable students accounts only for 9% of all the chemistry students. This is due to the fact that access to the chemistry lab is challenging for students with disabilities. The other reason is that is difficult to design and write science books for disable people. For example, how do we write a chemical formula in Braille?

With regard the minority ethnic students, they account only for the 20% and it has been proposed that exchange programmes, collaborations, and workshops about diversity might help in encouraging these students to undertake a chemistry degree.

When it comes to women in science, the number of data available is much higher and a deep understanding of the lower number of women in STEM is possible. Undergrad male and female chemistry students are roughly even in number. In fact, 44% of undergrads are female students. Boys and girls also perform the same and get same marks. The gender gap starts when choosing to take the next step into higher education. Only 39% of the PhD students in chemistry are female and only 9% of professors are female.

Why is that so? The 2016 Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) ASSETT found that women are more ambitious than men and highlighted some of the inequalities inhibiting women’s progression. For example,

  1. A higher proportion of men than women are invited to apply for promotions.
  2. Women are likely to report greater teaching and administrative responsibilities than men: this impacts on their capacity to devote time to research, despite its importance for progression.
  3. Men are more likely than women to have the opportunity to serve on departmental committees, to feel their department valued their research, to have access to senior departmental staff, and to have a supportive line manager.
  4. The departmental culture favours men, particularly white, heterosexual men, through informal social networks that provide access to advantageous information and informal sponsorship.
  5. Finally, women are more likely to get a fixed-term contract than men, who are more likely to get a permanent contract.

Men tend to be put forward for promotions, invited to social events and get better terms of contract than women.

With regard to publications, 31% of chemistry publications have female authors. This is actually a good number compared to the engineering colleagues one, which is 21%. This is due to the fact that 1. female researchers tend to work on multidisciplinary projects; 2. women are slightly less likely than men to collaborate across academic and
corporate sectors on papers; 3.women are generally less internationally mobile than men.

Results are based upon analysis of 68,559 papers across all Royal Society of Chemistry journals, showed that, in the first two years after publication, male authors receive more citations than female authors. Also, women tend to publish in lower impact factor journals than men.

Is there any gender inequality in academia? In my opinion, this is not the case if we solely look at numbers. I believe that it a women’s choice to decide to carry forward with higher education and take the next step into a professorship. The number of female authors for academic paper is also a good sign. Women are underrepresented in science, only 35% of all PhD students and 9% of female professors in chemistry are women, and yet they account for 35% of authors. I believe this is very positive and it does show that women in science do produce good research and contribute significantly to push the boundaries of knowledge.

The inequalities and discrimination come across when it comes to promotions and terms of contract. Why do men have higher recommendations to get a promotion and more likely to get a permanent job? This is disparity and inequality. This is the mentality that has to change for encouraging more women to get into science and to make academia a suitable place for women.

Finally, it is important to talk about the pay gap. This is a very controversial issue as some statistics say that the pay gap according to gender is around 25%, other statistics say that it is between 4 and 7%. In the first studies, the number 25% which is an average number. So they survey all the women and check how much they earn per person on average, then they do the same with men and the pay gap accounts for 25%. The second type of studies also takes into account education, age and full-time/part-time contracts. When all these parameters are taken into account, the pay gap seems to be much less and account between 4 and 7%.

Which statistics should be more appropriate to describe the salary disparity between men and women? I don’t know. But, it is a fact that women tend to earn less. This is mainly due to the fact that:

  1. Women aren’t as good as men at negotiating their salary. My advice is: Don’t be scared to throw a high number when it comes to negotiating your salary. If you are a superstar and brilliant person, companies are very happy to pay the price you are worth.
  2. Women show a bit of lack of confidence when it comes to putting themselves forward for leadership and promotions. My advice: if you feel you are eligible and enough qualified for a task, don’t hesitate, just do it.
  3. Finally, due to pregnancy and motherhood, women tend to work fewer hours and opt for part-time jobs. Having children, educating and training new generations is the most honourable job and should be regarded as equally important as having a fully-paid job. If you are women and you choose to be a mother instead of your career, be happy for it. There is nothing more rewarding than doing and supporting people you love.

Statistics show that women lack a bit of confidence when it comes to salary negotiation and put themselves forward for leadership.


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