Published date

April 2012

Women in STEM – 2012

*Update March 2018: The RSE has launched a review of the progress made on equality for Women in STEM in Scotland since the 2012 Tapping All Our Talents report was published. Details of that review and how to engage can be found here.  

There is widespread agreement that science underpins key sectors of the Scottish economy and is a vital component in the creation of economic growth. But sustainable economic growth can only be achieved if we make best use of the skills of our people to boost productivity, and support the flow of knowledge from our universities and colleges into wealth creation. The RSE believes change is necessary to ensure Scotland makes full use of its available talent by tackling the under-representation of women in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce.

The under-representation of women in STEM is of particular concern when the strategic importance of this field is considered: economic growth relies heavily on innovation and knowledge, especially in science and technology. It has been estimated that increasing the participation of women in the UK labour market could be worth between £15 billion and £23 billion (1.3-2.0% GDP), with STEM accounting for at least £2 billion.

Although recent years have seen significant increases in the number of female STEM graduates and postgraduates, the numbers who proceed to take up senior positions in universities, research, business and industry remain proportionately much smaller than in the case of their male counterparts. In a straitened economy where education is free, the failure to provide a workplace where skilled individuals – whether male or female – can progress and thrive is a wasted investment in human capital and represents a serious loss of potential for Scotland.

Attracting and retaining more women in the STEM workforce to boost economic growth is a public policy challenge which demands public, private and third sector solutions. The Royal Society of Edinburgh, with the involvement of the Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland, has established a Working Group to develop a cohesive and comprehensive strategy for Scotland to increase both the proportion of women in the STEM workforce, and the number who rise to senior positions in universities, institutes and business. Our report, published in early 2012, will provide practical advice on what can be done by those who have a key interest in STEM to harness the full potential of women in science.

Download the full inquiry here: Women in STEM-2012

Tapping All our Talents: Women in STEM

The majority of women with qualifications in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects do not work in STEM areas.  This is in contrast to men.  The consequence is a serious loss to the economy.  Scotland must address this issue.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh Report, ‘Tapping all our talents. Women in STEM:  a Strategy for Scotland’ recommends  creating a strategy to increase the proportion of women in the workplace qualified in STEM subjects, and to increase the number who rise to senior positions in universities, research institutes, government, business and industry.

This Report has been produced by an expert Working Group, chaired by the distinguished astrophysicist Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell.

In advance of the publication of the report Jocelyn commented, ‘Women with science, technology and engineering skills are one of Scotland’s untapped resources. Having more women in the science and engineering work place will also increase the diversity – itself a source of strength and success.’


Download the full report here.

The Scottish Government Response

In May 2013, the Scottish Government issued a response to the RSE Report.

The Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP has welcomed the report, observing:

“Often women’s achievements in science, technology, engineering and maths can be overlooked and undervalued. For too long many women’s potential in these areas has been cut short. In the modern Scotland we must ensure that the talents of all our people are recognised and used for the benefit of all. That is why I welcome this report’s contribution to this important issue, and why the Scottish Government will work with key partners to find solutions that benefit women and our wider economy.”

Sir John Arbuthnott added his support to the report, saying:

“This report clearly demonstrates that Scotland, like many other countries, currently does not take full advantage of the ability of many talented female scientists. In many cases the career opportunities of women are restricted. The recommendations in the report are very clear and are directed at Government in Scotland and the UK, as well as universities and industry, for the benefit of the whole of society.”

In April last year, the Royal Society of Edinburgh published its report ‘Tapping all our Talents’. In our report we drew attention to the high percentage of female graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) who leave these sectors. We made the case for a strategic and coordinated approach to tackling this issue and called for a Programme of Action that included specific recommendations to government, research councils and other funders, universities and research institutes, business and industry, and learned and professional bodies.

Together with the Scottish Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology at Edinburgh Napier University, the RSE hosted a seminar on Scotland’s strategy for lifting barriers to women in STEM. This seminar focussed on the progress that organisations within Scotland have made towards this goal, and identified areas that still need to be addressed.


“To develop a cohesive and comprehensive strategy for Scotland to increase both the proportion of women in the STEM workforce, and the number who rise to senior positions in universities, institutes, public and professional bodies, business and industry.”


The report will address the vertical segregation of women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce from postgraduate level to senior management/directorship in universities, institutes, public and professional bodies, business and industry. It will also consider the support for women in entrepreneurship.

Inquiry process

The Working Group will take evidence from experts in the field, STEM practitioners and employers, and engage with stakeholders during the process via discussion fora. A formal written consultation will take place during the summer with a final consultation event in October, arranged with the Foundation for Science & Technology. This will review the evidence and recommendations in the RSE report and will involve experts familiar with relevant evidence; representatives of the STEM base and those with executive responsibility in business, institutes, universities and colleges that employ STEM graduates. The Working group will publish its final report in November.

Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE FRS FRSE (Chair)
Professor Geoffrey Boulton OBE FRS FRSE
Professor Alice Brown CBE FRSE (Vice Chair)
Professor Anne Glover CBE FRSE
Professor Rebecca Lunn
Mr Jim McColl OBE FRSE
Professor Teresa Rees CBE (Special Adviser)
Dr Susan Rice CBE FRSE
Professor Wilson Sibbett CBE FRS FRSE
Ms Linda Somerville
Professor Bonnie Webber FRSE