THE BLOG

Improving Representation of Women in Science and Engineering

24/09/2014 14:18 BST | Updated 23/11/2014 10:59 GMT

As president of Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge - one of the three remaining colleges for women - it will come as no surprise that I see a lot of clever, capable, young women come through our doors.

I am passionate about equality in the workplace. It is frustrating that many barriers still exist for young women graduating today. It is unfair for the talented women missing out on rewarding careers, and it is detrimental to the UK economy. The Women's Business Council reports that equalising the labour force participation rates of men and women could increase UK GDP per capita growth by 0.5 percentage points per year, with potential gains of 10% of GDP by 2030.

Ironically, science and engineering - the industries at the heart of the UK's economy - are languishing at the bottom of all league tables when it comes to women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). The UK is the worst in Europe, in fact, with women making up just 6% of the engineering footpath.

Why is this still an issue? And what can we do about it? To my dismay, I often find the issues of gender and diversity in the workplace being discussed by middle-aged white men, who have the best of intentions and no first-hand experience of the barriers in place.

Women in STEM is a topic ripe for discussion by a women's College celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. On Friday 26 September we will be holding a Women in Science Symposium, with the aim of bringing together experts - largely women- in the field of STEM and education to engage in the debate, identify key research areas and discuss what can be done in practice.

I'm excited by the prospect of having so many leading female experts under one roof, including Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, space scientist and presenter of BBC The Sky at Night, Professor Dame Athene Donald, Dr Alice Sullivan, Professor Anna Vignoles and Professor Dame Julia King, among others.

Alongside these experts we have also invited young women from sixth forms who are interested in science and the opportunities it presents. Hearing what they have to say and respecting the value of their contribution is key to our approach to this issue.

While the Tomorrow's Engineers programme plays a valuable role in engaging and inspiring young people about STEM in schools, we recognise at Murray Edwards College that support and positive role models should go beyond school, into higher education and the workplace. As such, we've developed a Gateway Academic Development Programme (ADP) designed to support students from sixth form through to careers. We also have an innovative internship programme, with plans underway for a personal development programme for graduates and a mentoring scheme for young alumnae.

Women should not be alienated from the careers that are the backbone of our society. There will be 1.86 million jobs in engineering alone by 2020, so it's time we worked together to make STEM careers more accessible to women, and put the concept of a 'male-dominated' industry firmly in the past. I'm looking to the Women in Science Symposium to get us off to a flying start.