The bid to address the gender imbalance in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) sector has made many a headline in recent years, with the government, industry bodies, leading firms and more all taking steps to nurture the female STEM talent pipeline.

Now a new study from the US could shed light on what exactly is needed to help take this bid from concept to reality. Mary Jean Amon, a doctoral student in the University of Cincinnati’s psychology programme, carried out a study focusing on 46 female graduate students working towards STEM careers, and reached some interesting conclusions.

All members of the study group participated in STEM leadership workshops at a research university.

Amongst other findings, the study revealed that social supports systems – including encouragement and mentoring from research advisors as well as family and friends – played a vital role in helping would-be female STEM professionals in overcoming barriers in these traditionally male-dominated sectors.

“I was surprised at the major role that social supports took in helping women persevere in these fields,” says Amon.

“They were very sensitive to their mentor’s feedback. I think that’s true for the general population in research fields.

“However, when these women reported having lower confidence and higher perfectionism and their mentors were offering negative feedback or just weren’t around, these women felt like they took a major hit.

“On the other hand, even in the face of failure, if their mentor told them it was all OK, that would really smooth over their personal turmoil about pursuing their career,” continued Amon.

Series of recommendations to further support women in STEM professions

Presenting her findings at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C, Amon made a number of recommendations to further support women in STEM professions. This included the following:

  • Extra diversity training programmes
  • Self-development opportunities to make STEM sectors more appealing to women
  • Mentoring programmes
  • Flexible work hours

Are you a female STEM professional? What has been your experience of working in the STEM sector?