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