Gender pay gap narrower in STEM careers

New research shows that the gender pay gap is less of an issue in STEM careers than elsewhere in the economy, says Paul Jackson.

Research from Deloitte released a few days ago presented some good news for diversity in engineering.

It showed that increasing female participation in STEM subjects and STEM careers will help to reduce the UK gender pay gap. Although the research predicts that at the current rate the gap won’t close until 2069, it’s far smaller within STEM careers starting salaries than elsewhere in the economy and there’s no difference in the median starting salary between men and women in engineering. That's important for productivity because engineering is an essential foundation for a high-skilled, well-paid, productive economy. This bears repeating, particularly following the party conference season.

Deloitte’s Emma Codd said: “More must be done to encourage girls from an early age to consider a full range of STEM career options and understand the impact that their choice of studies can have on their career options.”

That’s a familiar refrain. All young people need to know what the opportunities are, understand what subjects give them the best opportunities and to draw inspiration from role models already in the field.

What we see from Tomorrow’s Engineers and The Big Bang programme is that girls respond well to the opportunity to get hands-on and hear directly from STEM professionals. This improves their knowledge and perception of the work those professionals do day to day and as a result they are more likely to see themselves as part of that workforce.

When choosing subjects that will give them to chance to work in STEM, girls only make up one fifth of A level physics students (even though the split of top grades at GSCE is reasonably equal when broken down by gender). Fast forward to those applying for engineering degrees and less than 13% are female. However you look at it, it’s clear that this needs to change.

Education and policymakers have a role in bringing about that change, but employers play a key part in creating that essential moment of inspiration and converting it to aspiration. Many of the companies gearing up for Tomorrow’s Engineers Week next month are keen to feature the contribution of women they employ to inspire more girls into the industry. 

At a STEM conference organised by the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion (ENEI) late last month there was a real and collective desire to work to address the skills shortage. STEM skills are a critical part of the industries and companies represented, from banking to energy and major infrastructure. There was a tremendous mix of people there, from host Santander’s UK CIO, to an apprentice and a graduate from Cobham and from EY to the British Antarctic Survey and the Department for International Development.

This was a group of employers ready to support a diverse set of recruits with the skills and creativity to drive their businesses. I told all the politicians I met at the recent party conferences just what an opportunity this presents. We need to make the case very clearly or they might just dream up an industrial strategy based on low exchange rates and shopping!

I look forward to working with ENEI to share what we have learned through the Tomorrow’s Engineers programme and to support those employers who recognise the need to act now to safeguard the future and attract talent of all kinds.

Paul Jackson is the chief executive of Engineering UK.

Click here to find out more about Tomorrow’s Engineers Week.