The future is female, or so we have heard. Go online and you'll see the latest “girl power” phrase proudly proclaimed by women of all ages and the next generation of little girls. In a flurry of inspirational hashtags and Instagram captions, a growing chorus of 21st-century women appear optimistic about the world that together they can build. What will that world look like? The architectures of the future are likely to be archways between physical and virtual domains, public space and private life, the ingrained challenges of the past and a glittering hope for progress toward a world where equality of opportunity reigns free. As the technological advances of the space age propel the future of work and life forward, now is the time to ask: where do women and girls stand? And who is designing the parameters of the spaces in which they will live out their hopes and dreams? The State of Women in STEM The new frontiers of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) represent promising engines for future global economic growth and innovation. The UN estimates that in Europe alone, there will be 7 million STEM jobs by 2025 and not enough qualified workers to fill them. And yet, it continues to be a sector in which female participation, education and career advancement lag woefully behind. In 2017, UNESCO released its flagship report, Cracking the Code: Girls and Women’s Education in STEM. “Not only do girls have fewer initial education opportunities, but there are systemic impediments at every step that push them out of the STEM fields,” reports UNESCO, detailing how the global gender gap develops throughout the pipeline:
- Childhood: Gender differences in STEM education participation at the expense of girls begin as early as Early Childhood Care and Education in science- and math-related play, and are more visible at higher levels of education.
- School: Girls appear to lose interest in STEM subjects as they get older, particularly between early and late adolescence. The gender gap in STEM becomes particularly apparent in upper secondary education, as reflected in girls' choices of advanced studies in mathematics and science.
- Training: Gender gaps become stark in higher education. Female students represent only 35% of all students enrolled in STEM-related fields of study globally. Differences are also observed by disciplines, with female enrollment lowest in engineering, manufacturing and construction, natural science, mathematics and statistics and ICT fields.
- Career: Women continue to drop out of STEM disciplines in disproportionate numbers during their higher education studies, while transitioning to the world of work and even during their career cycle.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.