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For Women and Girls in Science Day, we are calling on the Government to ensure the gender gap is closed

For Women and Girls in Science Day, we are calling on the Government to ensure the gender gap is closed
4 min read

Women have played a critical role in tackling the Coronavirus pandemic yet have borne the brunt of it – particularly women researchers and scientists who have helped in the different stages of creating vaccines.

That is why on the Women and Girls in Science Day I am calling on the UK government to do more for these women and bring in policies to ensure these women – and all women - are never disproportionately impacted by a crisis in the UK again.

Women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) should be recognised for their contribution – not punished for having the audacity to be a female in what has been seen as male industries for years.

Thankfully, this stereotype is disintegrating and data shows that women in STEM is increasing. I believe this day, started by the UN six years ago, has gone a long way in achieving that.

However, the statistics also show there is still a long way to go to achieve gender equality in STEM, and indeed gender equality more generally.

At present, less than 30% of researchers worldwide are women. According to UNESCO data (2014 - 2016), only around 30 per cent of all female students select STEM-related fields in higher education. Globally, female students’ enrolment is particularly low in ICT (3%), natural science, mathematics and statistics (5%) and in engineering, manufacturing and construction (8 per cent).

Similarly in the UK, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, only 35% of STEM students in higher education in the UK are women. Between 2017 and 2018, 39% of students studying physical sciences were female. In the same period, the percentage of female students studying mathematical sciences was just 37%.

Although I am pleased to see that the UK is doing slightly better than the global average, it is not enough - far more needs to be done to encourage women and girls into STEM.

The SNP Scottish Government has used its limited powers to do what it can but a huge part of achieving this goal lies in amending employment law, which remains reserved to Westminster.

In order to tackle gender disparity we must first know the extent of the problem, which is why the UK government must bring back gender pay gap reporting without delay. It is shocking that the Tories scrapped it in the first place and the SNP will continue to push for this to be reinstated – as we have done since it was removed.

UK Ministers must also get behind the recommendation by the Women and Equalities Committee to remove the 26 weeks service threshold for employees to request flexible working arrangements. Flexible working will not always be possible at times in some STEM industries but where it is, it must be an option.

Carrying out Equality Impact Assessments for the Industrial Strategy and ‘New Deal’, establishing quotas for women in its Kickstart scheme, publishing a gender equality plan for its apprenticeship programme and an action plan to increase the number of women in STEM apprenticeships must also be top priorities for the UK’s Women and Equalities minister.

And as a step towards ending pregnancy and maternity discrimination, I am urging UK ministers to also extend redundancy protection to pregnant women and new mothers.

The UN has said that gender disparities in the scientific system must be addressed by new policies, initiatives and mechanisms to support women and girls in science.

The policies I am urging the UK government to bring in are just the tip of the iceberg in what needs to be done to tackle the gender imbalance in STEM – but it would be a very, very good start.

Boris Johnson – a Prime Minister that presides over the cruel two-child cap and is dragging his feet in bringing back gender pay gap reporting - must shake off his outdated, out-of-touch and draconian approach and start to take real action if we are to continue making progress in narrowing the gender gap. Otherwise, the responsibility for turning back the clock on gender equality will lie squarely at his feet.

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