International Women’s Day is a chance to celebrate the amazing achievements of women in science and to inspire the next generation of girls to consider STEM careers. We have made huge strides towards gender equality in what were traditionally considered ‘male’ careers, but there is still work to be done. Only 13% of the UK’s STEM workforce is female, while women in engineering make up just 8.7% of the workforce, and it’s time for this to change.

Here we hear from some of the inspiring women in STEM who are bucking this trend – from female Shell Ideas360 finalists to a senior Shell scientist, to better understand how we can work together to close the gender gap in STEM.

A lack of female role models

The ‘Generation STEM’ study carried out by the Girl Scouts in the US found that 66% of girls who were interested in STEM careers knew someone who already worked in these fields. This illustrates the power of positive role models, but we have a long way to go – as there is just one female engineer among Forbes’ top 100 CEOs.

This is something Shell Ideas360 finalist Monica Carranza, a 2017 finalist with Delft Idea Group, feels we urgently need to address: “I do consider that as a society, we need to start identifying those women working with STEM that are achieving major goals in the area. I think that it would be a major factor for directing the female roles towards the STEM disciplines.”

At Shell we are working hard to raise the profile of inspiring women working in STEM. With a highly successful STEM career as a Delivery Manager for Diesel Development in Shell Fuel’s Technology group, Emma Wyatt is one example of a positive role female role model.

Emma says that things are already beginning to change: “In the last few years there has been a 50:50 split [in the genders of graduate recruits] and this is a positive sign, as there still aren’t equal numbers of male and female graduates leaving university with technical degrees. These changes will take time to make a real difference, but we are getting there.”

STEM subjects are ‘boys’ subjects

Role models like Emma are essential to combatting gender stereotypes in STEM. Over half of both teachers and parents admitted to having subconscious gender stereotypes surrounding STEM subjects. With 47% of 7-11 year-old girls claiming that gender stereotypes affect how much they participate in lessons, fighting preconceptions couldn’t be more vital.

This is echoed by Malvika Gupta, who was part of Team Smart Panels, which won the 2017 Shell Ideas360 Judge’s Award:  “I think one of the biggest challenges that women face when studying STEM is the stereotype of people within the STEM field. So many women don’t even consider pursuing STEM because they feel that they don’t fit their mental idea of what a person in STEM looks like, acts like, or lives like. These stereotypes also discourage women from continuing in STEM.”

At Shell, we’ve been focusing on girls in STEM by challenging these stereotypes with our Girls in Energy programme in British schools, which introduces young women to the opportunities available across the energy industry. Beyond this, Shell Ideas360 has consistently shattered stereotypes with bright female finalists like Monica and Malvika.

An equal workplace

With so few role models in an industry still stereotyped as ‘male’, one of the biggest barriers to recruiting women is a perception of inequality. We need to assure young women that they will be treated equally to their male colleagues and welcomed to our workforce.

That’s why Shell is committed to tackling the perceptions of inequality in our industry. Named one of The Times Top Employers for Women for the third year running, we’re determined to provide the strong, successful female role models needed to inspire the next generation of STEM professionals.

Only through battling perceptions of inequality in the workplace and stamping out stereotypes, will we get the dynamic, diverse workforce our STEM industries need to thrive. Through the Shell Ideas360 programme we can encourage female students to get involved. This is the message from Charlene Lim from 2017 finalists team, Rocket. “Just go for it”, she says. “If you have a genuine interest in the subject, then don’t let the demographics of these typically male dominated programs deter you.”

To find out more about Emma Wyatt’s inspiring career and how she’s helping to encourage more women into STEM careers watch her webcast.