Gender stereotypes are still prevalent in student's A-level choices, with fewer girls choosing to study science, maths, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects, despite outperforming boys at GCSE level.
The analysis of school exam results data, carried out by technical and management consultancy AECOM, found that in 2009, 66% of girls achieved grade C or above in Stem subjects, narrowly beating the 63% of boys achieving the same level. Yet by 2014, the gap in performance more than doubled, with 72% of girls achieving grade C or above compared to just 66% of boys.
Despite this, and while overall selection of Stem A-levels is up by 19% over the same five-year period, the number of male candidates rose much faster than the number of female candidates in many core Stem subjects. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of males taking a maths A-level rose by 27% to more than 54,000, compared to a rise of just 17% for female students at 34,000.
The difference in further maths was even more pronounced, with the number of male candidates up 40% compared to a 21% increase for females. A similar pattern emerged with physics A-levels, which saw a 26% boost in male candidates compared to an 18% increase in females over the same period.
AECOM said the results are an indication that when it comes to choosing a narrower number of subjects at A-level, by which stage pupils often have a career in mind, gender stereotypes about subjects and jobs still “loom large in the minds of teenagers”.
To resolve this issue, AECOM has said that the country needs to “re-frame” the way Stem subjects and related careers are presented to girls from a young age in order to increase the numbers choosing to enter technical professions.
Charlie Weatherhogg, AECOM HR director for the UK and Ireland, continental Europe and Africa, said employers must find new and creative ways to attract and retain female talent. “Attracting women to engineering and other technical disciplines begins long before university. It’s important to open girls’ minds at a young age, ideally while they are in primary school, to help dispel this myth of ‘male’ jobs.”
Richard Robinson, chief executive, civil infrastructure for EMEA and India at AECOM, said: “Young people, in particular young women, need to hear about the exciting, intellectually challenging work engineers do to build a better world, from designing sustainable transport and energy infrastructure to protecting people from floods or planning cities of the future. If more teenagers are made aware of the opportunities to travel the world and work on high-profile projects that really benefit society, the numbers seeking to enter the profession will inevitably increase.”
He added: “Our employees regularly visit schools to introduce young minds to engineering and other technical disciplines, but to upscale this in a coordinated manner there needs to be greater collaboration between businesses and schools, which is hopefully where the government’s new, employer-led careers advice body can help.”
AECOM has said it has been making “considerable efforts” to hire young women in the UK, with the number of women it employs in technical roles increasing by 10% in the past year. Nearly one quarter (22%) of AECOM’s employees in highly technical roles are female, compared to just 13% of the UK Stem workforce and less than 8% of UK engineering professionals.