A 2018 Future of Jobs Report by the World Economic Forum covering 20 countries, which collectively represent 70 percent of the Global Gross Domestic Product, concluded that millions of jobs will be lost to disruptive labour market changes from 2015-2020 with an overwhelming majority of new future jobs requiring STEM skills.
Reached gender parity
Some countries and regions have proven that it is possible to break down the barriers that hold them back from achieving gender parity in STEM. Women researchers have attained gender parity in Southeast Europe (49 percent). South Asia is the region where women make up the smallest proportion of researchers − 17 percent, 13 percentage points below sub-Saharan Africa.
Today, in many countries and regions, women dominate the broad fields of health and welfare but not the rest of the sciences. They are least likely to feature among engineering graduates yet there are also exceptions to the rule. In Oman, for example, women constitute more than half (53 per cent) of engineering graduates.
The second-most popular field of STEM for women is science. The share of women studying science matches men in many Latin American and Arab countries. In the 10 countries from Latin America and the Caribbean, females make up 45 percent or more of tertiary graduates in science. In Guatemala, as much as three-quarters of science graduates are female. Eleven out of 18 Arab states also have a majority of female science graduates.
The Malaysian information technology (IT) sector is made up equally of women and men, with large numbers of women employed as university professors and in the private sector.
Much of sub-Saharan Africa is witnessing gains in the share of women among tertiary graduates in scientific fields. South Africa and Zimbabwe have almost achieved parity among science graduates, with 49 percent and 47 percent respectively.
The share of female engineers is fairly high in some sub-Saharan Africa countries compared to other regions. In Mozambique and South Africa, women make up about a third of engineering graduates.
Unesco reports that a combination of factors reduces the proportion of women at each stage of a scientific career. A study conducted in 2008 of the career intentions of graduate students in chemistry in the UK found that almost three-quarters of women had planned to become researchers at the start of their studies but, by the time they completed their PhD, only a third still harboured this career goal.
The study found that female students were more likely to encounter problems with their supervisor, such as favouritism or victimisation, or to feel that their supervisor was insensitive to their personal life, or to feel isolated from their research group. They were also put off by discomfort in the research culture of their group in terms of working patterns, work hours and competition among peers. Many of them also spoke of having been advised against pursuing a scientific career, owing to the challenges they would face as women.
In East Africa, barriers facing female researchers include difficulty in travelling to conferences or in participating in field work, on the assumption that they are the primary caregivers at home.
According to Unesco, changing the current system of performance appraisals and rewards to accommodate women’s child-bearing years without obliging them to sacrifice their careers is the single most important step towards rectifying this imbalance.