You will no doubt be aware that women are underrepresented in Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) occupations. They make up 14.4% of all people working in Stem in the UK, despite being about half of the workforce. This is well short of the country’s goal of a critical mass of 30%. Increasing women in Stem is forecast to increase the UK’s labour value by at least £2bn. (reports Guardian Education)
There is a whole tangle of reasons why the gender gap in Stem exists. One is a pipeline issue – fewer girls than boys choose to study Stem subjects at secondary school and university. Interventions internationally mean the numbers of girls in Stem subjects are creeping up very slowly, but the gap remains surprisingly resistant nonetheless.
Biological explanations tend to rely on the fact that boys are better at spatial tasks while girls are better at verbal recall tasks. However, these differences are very small and their link to Stem ability is tenuous.
Meta-analyses across a range of skills consistently show that girls and boys are on average much more similar than they are different across a range of skills. For instance, a meta-analysis of gender differences in mathematics, based on 100 studies and testing more than three million people, found that girls outperformed boys overall in primary school, there was no difference in secondary school and there was only a very slight and inconsistent male advantage for complex problem solving.