Women in SET; new statistics

This is the first in a series of two posts by Marion Scott at the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET (UKRC), drawing on their new edition of Women and men in science, engineering and technology: the UK statistics guide 2010. The second post can be found here.

The UK needs more scientists, engineers and technologists at every level - for economic recovery and to develop innovation capacity and impact the knowledge economy in key growth sectors. In this first post, the UKRC’s Guide 2010 shows that women are under-represented at every level in STEM education and SET employment, with particularly severe gender segregation in vocational training and skilled trades.

The statistics confirm the need for more attention to culture change within SET organisations and businesses, and more opportunities for women to enter or return to SET training, education and employment throughout their lives.


Science, engineering and technology are central to our lives, our economy and our future. But at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the analysis in the UKRC’s Guide reveals that only 5.3 per cent (674,000), or about one in twenty, of all working women are employed in any SET occupation, compared to 31.3 per cent for all working men (nearly one in three), in a total of 5.5 million women and men in SET occupations. This means that a man is six times more likely to work in a SET occupation than a woman.

The Guide shows how the number of girls and women studying STEM has improved. However STEM graduates do not always work in SET occupations. Female STEM graduates of working age in the UK (a total of 620,000) are more likely to take up employment in non-SET than in SET occupations. Only 29.8 per cent (185,000) of all female STEM graduates of working age in the UK are employed in SET occupations compared to half (782,000) of all male STEM graduates of working age. Nearly 100,000 female STEM graduates are either unemployed or economically inactive.

Although girls and women are entering SET employment, education and training, sometimes in greater numbers or proportions than in the past, there is still a pronounced trend whereby the numbers and proportions drop at key stages or over time. Attrition begins to be pronounced at A level (after the national curriculum stage) and continues through post compulsory education and training, into employment. Attracting more women scientists, engineers and technologists into the economy is a public policy challenge. It demands public, private and third sector solutions because the problems are complex and interdependent.

Women remain under-represented and under utilised in SET occupations. The Guide highlights some key statistics:


Women were only 12.3 per cent of the workforce in all SET occupations including health and skilled trades in 2008, an increase of 2.0 percentage points since 2003. However, female representation varies greatly across different SET professions. For example, women are approaching gender balance in science, with women being nearly 40 per cent of science professionals and scientific researchers, but they make up only 6.9 per cent of engineering professionals.


Men are more likely than women to take up SET management positions (37.7 per cent of all male SET professionals/associate professionals compared to 28.6 per cent of women in the same occupational group). But a larger proportion of women work in (lower level) SET associate professions: as technicians, draughtspersons and inspectors, and in IT service delivery (26.5 per cent among women compared to 16.5 per cent among men).

Gender occupational segregation is particularly extreme in SET skilled trades, with women forming 1.1 per cent of these occupations in 2008, with a tiny growth of 0.1 per cent since 2003. In 2007 the lowest paying apprentice sectors such as hairdressing, early years, and health and social care had the highest proportions of women among all apprentices. The highest paid sectors were all SET related, and had the lowest proportions of women apprentices.

Women are a lower percentage of more senior full-time grades in STEM academic departments. In 2007/08, 5,375 women worked full-time as researchers, accounting for 30.3 per cent of all full-time researchers. There were also 2,065 female lecturers (26.1 per cent), 1,790 female senior researchers/lecturers (18.3 per cent), and only 540 female professors (9.3 per cent) in STEM full-time employment.


Women working in most SET occupations are more likely to have STEM graduate level qualifications than their male colleagues. The exceptions to this are SET managers and ICT occupations where men are more likely to be STEM graduates.


Disproportionate numbers of women are among all part-time grades in STEM academic departments, except professor. In 2007/08, the ratio of full-time to part-time female researchers was 5:1, but only 15:1 for male researchers. The ratio of full-time to part-time female lecturers was 3:2, but 3:1 for male lecturers. The ratio of full-time to part-time female senior researchers/lecturers was 5:1, but only 17:1 for their male counterparts. However, there were proportionately more male part time professors (8:1) than female part-time professors (10:1). This may be an example of emergent high quality part-time work that is attractive to men in academia.


Women with disabilities remain slightly less likely to work in SET occupations in the UK than women without disabilities. In 2008, 4.0 per cent of all working women with disabilities were in SET occupations, while the equivalent figure for women without disabilities was 5.5 per cent. Moreover, since 2003 there has been a slight proportional decline (of 0.7 percentage points) in the participation of women with disabilities in SET occupations at all levels.

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One Comment

  1. wjw
    Posted 17/03/2011 at 13:43 | Permalink

    I have not worked since 27th July 2008. I used to run a breast cancer screening service. How about a little less focus on women and more on using the obvious skills which some of us have but are somehow regarded as too old to function.

    wjw 46XY

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  • […] In 2011 in the UK, one in three working men but only one in 20 working women had a career in science, engineering or technology (SET), wrote Marion Scott from the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET in a blog post. […]

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