Survey shows gender imbalance in those eyeing up a STEM career

Daniel McCabe

Two Female College Students Building Machine In Science Robotics Or Engineering Class

There are 2.5 males to every one female at secondary level education in Ireland considering a career in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) according to survey conducted by Hayes Culleton Group.

The report, which surveyed over 600 secondary school students across the country corroborates the sector wide trend of female underreprestantion in STEM.

Susan Hayes Culleton, MC at this year’s STEM South West Expo commented that the results demonstrate

The real need to communicate and engage with all students, but particularly girls, outlining the breadth and range of STEM roles, the impact a career in the sector can have’.

While there is a general upswing in the number of students choosing STEM courses on their CAO according to the latest CAO applications statistics, uptake among girls remains low, with over 40% of boys listing a STEM course versus just 19% of girls.

According to the most recent HEA report, there is a significant gender gap in students who complete their courses, with only 71% of males completing compared to 80% of females, despite fewer females entering STEM. 

Christine Stears, who works in Student Recruitment and Outreach for the Faculty of Computing and Engineering at DCU believes that ‘underlying doubt within females’ causes fewer females to enter STEM courses and hopes her work in student outreach can change that. 

She says, ‘It’s up to us, the people that do student outreach, to change the perception and explain that STEM is for everyone.’ Stears continued, ‘There is a tremendous amount of opportunity out there, especially if you’re female. Because there are so many males going into this area, that when a female is equally as qualified as a male, the chances are the female will be hired because they’re short of them.’

According to the HEA report, dropout rates for some computing and engineering courses were between 60 and 80%. However, Stears says that DCU’s strict higher level maths requirements for Leaving Certificate mean that students are better prepared for STEM courses at the university. 

Stears said, ‘If any student wants to succeed in STEM, the general preference is that they have a good level of maths.’ Stears went on to say that she believes students that ‘try to find another route into STEM, that doesn’t require that higher level of maths’ are at a disadvantage when entering third-level education. 
She added, ‘when they go into an alternative route, the reality is, it’s still too difficult for them, and they drop out. So if you look at stats from across the universities, you’ll probably see that the institutions that have the higher dropouts don’t have the higher level maths requirement or the specific subject they need to excel in STEM.’

Daniel McCabe

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