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Education the key to getting more girls into STEM

Published: Fri 12 Feb 2016
Education the key to getting more girls into STEM

Dr Andrea Cullen looks at the issue of the gender pay gap and encouraging more girls into STEM subjects and careers.

Despite half the population being female, women remain under-represented in key professions and industries, neither earning equal pay nor having the same opportunities as male counterparts. The fact that we're still talking about a gender pay gap in 2016 is an indictment and the debate and the fact that the government is trying to address this is to be welcomed. But more needs to be done, including educating children from an early age about gender equality and eradicating gender stereotypes.

The gender gap in Computer science is not a new phenomenon. The situation was no different in the 80s. It is difficult to understand how or why it has remained so male dominated. The University of Bradford, like all others in the UK, has had a steady 15-20% of female students studying Computer Science. The staff percentages overall in Computer Science are similar. Three female academics working in Computer Science are all Cyber security specialists. This is somewhat out of sync as this is even more of male-dominated arena but it puts us in a fantastic position to showcase possibilities for young women.

At Bradford we intend to make it our mission to redress the gender balance within Computer Science. Our target is to accomplish at least 50/50 female to male students and we would like to be known as the university that managed to eliminate the gender gap.

Part of the problem is that girls have already opted out of Computer Science at school to take subjects seen as traditionally female areas. You only need to have successfully studied GCSE English and maths to study Computer Science. Designing entry requirements in this way opens up the opportunity for students who may have thought this degree was closed to them at school. As such, we need to encourage more girls who have studied music, history and English as they can often make fantastic Computer Scientists. The subject is creative, artistic, problem-solving and needs great communication skills.

Experience shows that girls are as good at the subject as boys. Universities need to pull out all the stops to visit schools and encourage more girls to take up Computer Science at degree level, in particular targeting those not currently studying it in school. We need to ensure they understand that this is an exciting and fantastic career and one that is still open to them. For example, we are running a roadshow to showcase existing female students and staff as role models to demonstrate how this is an area where women can be successful.

 Dr Andrea Cullen, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science, University of Bradford

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