Comment: How the education sector can help employers attract and retain women working in STEM

It is important that industry works with educators and wider stakeholders to ensure gender parity in the STEM sector, says Rosa Wells, FE Principal and Dean for STEM at University College Birmingham.

Industries not traditionally associated with engineering may be more successful in attracting female engineers into the workforce
Industries not traditionally associated with engineering may be more successful in attracting female engineers into the workforce - UCB Stock

The latest government workforce data shows an overall decrease in the percentage of women making up the Core-STEM workforce. WISE reported, in December 2022, that 12.4 per cent of the Engineering Professionals workforce was female and that has fallen to 10.4 per cent in the most recently published data with an absolute reduction of 11,300 (September 2023).

As we celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, it is important to reflect on both successful role models but also to think about what more we need to do to improve gender balance so that the STEM workforce is more representative of wider society. Given the challenges that industry has when recruiting and filling vacancies across a variety of STEM roles, it is important to note that a broader appeal would reduce these challenges and improve productivity.

Interestingly, Engineering UK reported, in 2022, that women engineers make up a substantially larger proportion of the workforce when we look at engineers not working in the engineering sector and stated: “This suggests that industries not traditionally associated with engineering may be more successful in attracting female engineers into the workforce.”

Whilst there are several inclusion gaps across STEM careers and particularly within engineering, the gender gap is substantially larger; it might be concluded that if the sector could address the issues with attracting and retaining women, this could also lead to improved representation from all groups.

As an educator who has worked as a Manufacturing Engineer, I have engaged with many employers, young people and early career engineers to reflect on how the education sector also needs to work differently. We know that some undergraduate programmes have been very successful in recruiting a gender balanced cohort but there is a long way to go before we are in a position where this is the case at all universities. In addition, Engineering UK states that “there are far fewer girls compared to boys taking GCSE subjects such as engineering, computing and design and technology, though girls are more likely than boys to attain the highest grades in STEM subjects. For engineering-related vocational qualifications, men continued to make up the overwhelming majority of entries and achievements.”

University College Birmingham is in a unique position, as both a University and Further Education College, to implement a joined-up approach. Having launched engineering courses for the first time in 2022, we focus on the following key areas of work:

  1.  Attraction
  2.  Inclusive education
  3.  Retention in the sector


We have signed up to Tomorrows Engineer Code which aims to build a better understanding of what works in schools' outreach. We are keen to work with Tomorrows Engineers to reflect on how we can improve the quality, inclusivity, targeting and reach of activities designed to inspire young people to choose engineering careers. This is a great network to ensure best practice is shared and duplication is avoided. It is essential that we focus not only on providing positive experiences but that we measure the impact of the intervention activities that are planned and delivered.


We are able to link up regionally through the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Institute of Technology to provide consistent support to schools and community groups which ensures effective interventions for young people and which can link young people to opportunities for further study, apprenticeships and careers.

Inclusive Education

We are looking at how we can work with Equal Engineers  to support our students to build confidence, networks and opportunities to engage with employers.

We are working with WISE and WES to support our female students to develop meaningful networks with opportunities for mentoring and sponsorship.

We are reflecting on how to facilitate Brave Spaces where female STEM students can discuss their hopes and also their fears, providing space to discuss and explore their future identity in the STEM workforce.


We are committed to engaging with employers, individually and through the GBS Institute of Technology to have meaningful and frank discussions around ways in which inclusive work practices will support them to close the skills gaps and also improve productivity.

The WISE Ten Steps is a list of actions that companies can follow to ensure that women in science, technology, engineering and manufacturing have the same opportunities to progress in their career as their male counterparts. When taken together, they have the potential to drive company performance and create a more inclusive working environment for the whole workforce.

The recent data may show women either leaving or fewer women joining the sector, with the other possibility of the sector growing with more men occupying the newer roles on offer. Regardless of the causes, we must ensure that women’s roles within engineering are given consideration, with a robust plan to tackle this trend. This is vital not only for the opportunities for those young women, but also for the sector, and it’s important that industry works with both educators and wider stakeholders to ensure gender parity.

Rosa Wells is FE Principal and Dean for STEM at University College Birmingham