Why cuts to funding for women in Science, Engineering, and Technology don’t add up

Excellent article published by Scarlet Harris of the TUC on the TUC’s Touchstone blog.

“I blogged earlier this month on the disproportionate effect of the government’s cuts on women and families. Far from ending with the CSR, the attack on gender equality appears to be a sustained attack with no end in sight. There seems to be a new announcement about cuts that will affect women on an almost weekly basis. In recent weeks we’ve seen cuts to legal aid, the abolition of the Women’s National Commission, the decision to subsume the work of the Government Equalities Office into the Home Office, to name but a few cuts and reorganisations which will have a negative impact on women. The latest depressing news story about gender equality came earlier this week when BIS announced that, as of April 2011, there would be no further funding for the UK Resource Centre for Women (UKRC).

The UKRC is the leading body in the UK offering advice, services and developing policy regarding the woeful under-representation of women in Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET).

In case anyone is in any doubt that the services offered by UKRC are needed, it’s worth noting that only 5.3% of all working women are employed in SET occupations, compared to 31.3% of all working men. Women comprise only 12.3% of all people working in SET occupations, in spite of the fact that women make up 45.1% of the whole workforce in the UK. For anyone interested in this area who would like to know more about women in SET, I recommend the UKRC’s recent statistics guide which provides 154 pages of meticulously researched data and analysis.

While a significant number of women study SET subjects at graduate level, few go on to enter SET professions and, of those who do end up working in SET sectors, they are less likely to progress than their male counterparts and many find it hard to return to work after maternity leave if they have children.

The UKRC has directly provided 6,000 individual women with information and resources. It has provided strategic support to companies from BT, to Rolls Royce, to Eon, to Laing O’Rourke. It has worked to support single parents and women from ethnic minorities in SET occupations. It has produced a wealth of high quality research and data for the STEM community. The list of UKRC’s achievements goes on. Using the Cabinet Office approved Social Return on Investment (SROI) methodology, the UKRC’s work gives a return of over 5:1 for every £1 invested. So the £2.8million invested in the UKRC from April 2008 to September 2009 generated an impressive £14.8m in return.

It’s no secret that the country is facing a skills shortage and that specialist and technician skills in science, engineering and technology are in particularly short supply. Earlier this year the CBI produced a report called SET for Growth which warned of a critical lack of skills in SET which threatens the country’s growth over coming years. The report found that 59% of employers anticipated struggling to recruit employees with the requisite skills in SET and maths over the next three years.

So, faced with a dire SET skills shortage and an equally dire shortage of women entering and remaining in SET occupations, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that effectively abolishing an organisation like the UKRC – with its proven track record in successfully working with employers, unions, careers advisers, and individual working women to improve the gender balance in SET workplaces – is a retrograde step both for the UK’s SET sector and for gender equality”.

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