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Making equality work for women in STEM
(science, technology, engineering & maths)

Improving the Gender balance in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM)

Women in STEM - Why does it matter?

Judith Bell from YELO

It matters to the economy
The UK, last year, detailed a plan to create 142,000 new jobs by 2023  and there is already a STEM skills shortage. For Northern Ireland, this could mean 125,000 high value jobs to fill . Tech is relevant to almost every economic activity.

It matters to employers
In the uncertain economic times following Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, Northern Ireland needs to develop the very best pool of STEM candidates for its present and future economic prosperity and growth. 

It matters to employees
People with STEM have a wide choice of roles and STEM employers offer some of the highest starting salaries. The average starting salary in science in Northern Ireland in 2019 was £33,636. People with careers in science report their careers are fulfilling . Women should have equal opportunities to access these careers.

Improving the gender balance in STEM

Northern Ireland continues to have an under-representation of women across our STEM industries, in fact women are currently outnumbered by men in these industries by a ratio of three to one. This is not only a gender equality issue but a broader economic issue which impacts on business growth and development.

We are focusing on women and employment in the STEM sector because the statistics show:

  • Women make up half Northern Ireland’s working age population but their representation in non-traditional, STEM occupations remains low. Women in STEM leadership roles, i.e. management, directorships and as senior officials remain underrepresented across all STEM fields (17% average). A critical point in the STEM women’s career path arises during their mid-late 40s; representation at higher levels drop by 6% from 22% and continues to shrink until, by retirement, only 6% of science, research, engineering and technology professionals in NI are women.
  • Women are underrepresented in STEM industries. Only 15% of women study core STEM subjects compared to 36% of men, and are particularly underrepresented in computer science (16%). Despite women making up almost half Northern Ireland’s workforce, only 11% of engineers are female.

What can employers do?

Employers in Northern Ireland can:
  • talk to the Equality Commission about how you can ensure the visibility of STEM as an option for women in your workplace
  • promote diversity and Inclusion within your organisation
  • ensure recruitment and selection procedures are free from gender bias
  • consider taking positive action measures to encourage more women to apply for STEM jobs in your company
  • ensure that women have equal opportunities for promotion and training
  • create a modern, inclusive workplace culture – taking into account the needs of ‘millennials’
  • offer flexible working arrangements when requested where possible
  • promote shared parental leave and paternity leave
  • take up free STEM related webinars from the Equality Commission
  • Share your proactive gender equality work with other businesses to promote the benefits of a diverse workforce

If you would like to know more contact Paul Oakes in the Commission’s Advice and Compliance team:



How have employers in NI taken on the STEM challenge

Some of the companies that have taken on the STEM challenge in Northern Ireland include:

STEM sessions for employers and HR professionals

Topics we have covered in the past have included unconscious bias, lawful positive action, best practice, coaching and mentoring, women returners and gender pay gap reporting.

This year we are running webinars, one per quarter initially, to help employers gain knowledge of specific initiatives to improve equality practice within their workplaces and realise positive outcomes for employees.

For further information contact Paul Oakes on 02890 500694 or email

Further details will be posted on the Equality Commission's social media channels and ezine. If you would like to subscribe to our ezine, please add your email address below (see ECNI Newsletter at the bottom of this page) and choose the option 'Employers/Service providers', or email

Matrix NI

Recognising that an increase in skilled STEM workers is essential to the success of the NI economy, the Department for the Eoncomy (DfE) is being advised by Matrix NI, the Northern Ireland Science Industry Panel, formed to advise government, industry and academia on the commercial exploitation of R&D and science and technology.

The Matrix NI Women in STEM report (2018), set a target that by 2030, 33% of young people moving into STEM careers in NI should be girls and that government must aim to establish Northern Ireland as an exemplar STEM region.  The report highlighted that encouraging more women into STEM, and supporting them to remain, could go a long way to solving Northern Ireland’s skills shortages.

In 2020 DfE and the Matrix panel began working with WISE (Women into Science and Engineering) to establish a Northern Ireland Wise hub to help address skills shortages and work towards the target set in the Matrix NI report. The home of the NI Wise hub is, a site which promotes NI STEM role models, supporting organisations and brings together NI STEM events resources and reports.

The Equality Commission is a member of the NI WISE hub steering group and is a key ‘NI pulsar’ or collaborator.

Matrix NI goals:

  • by 2030, 33% of young people moving into STEM careers are girls
  • every child leaving primary school knows what an engineer does
  • girls can see themselves in any STEM role
  • senior management teams in STEM are fully inclusive and representative of a diverse workforce
  • establishment of a DfE led, cross-departmental working group to develop (by year-end) a STEM action plan fit to deliver NI STEM-ready by 2030

Report: Reaping the Gender Dividend in STEM

A report by the STEM Business Group, “Addressing Gender Balance – Reaping the Gender Dividend in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics” (pdf, 1.1mb), highlights how attracting and retaining a more diverse workforce can maximize innovation, creativity and competitiveness in the STEM market.

The report also contains good practice guidelines for addressing the gender gap in STEM and has useful case studies of local companies who are already taking action to improve gender diversity in their organisation.

Video: see how promoting gender equality has benefitted a business

Sharon Martin, IT Service Delivery Manager at Terex, explains how promoting gender equality has benefited their business. The video also looks at how STEM companies can promote gender equality and how the Equality Commission can help with this process.

Read more about Sharon and Terex
Judith's story

Judith Bell - Yelo

Judith is an electronic engineer working in the research and development department at Yelo.  She uses OrCAD to simulate electronic circuits and analyse the results to help inform circuit design and modifications.

She said, "Becoming an engineer has encouraged my sense of curiosity and I am always driven to learn more. I have enjoyed being able to research the theory and to apply it in practice; in design, testing, repair and modification."

"There is such a diverse range of disciplines in engineering. I’d encourage anyone, regardless of gender, to get involved, especially creative folk, problem-solvers and those of us with a million and one questions about how the world works. It’s not all about maths or all about drawing. For any combination of strengths, there is a field of engineering which would work perfectly with these. Even if you’re not currently considering a career in engineering, I’d look into what fields and opportunities are available- chances are you’ll stumble across something that looks interesting."

"All engineering projects are the result of the efforts of people with completely different skill sets, so there’s a job for every combination of talents." Read more about Judith's story>

Lesley's story

Lesley Torbet - Thales UK

Lesley works for Thales UK in the Systems Design and Synthetic Environment Team as a Systems Engineer.

She said, “I have been extremely lucky on my STEM journey. At university I chose to study Aero-Mechanical Engineering as it combined my love of physics and maths along with the complexity of aircraft design and manufacture."

"Every day in Thales is different. The office environment is fast paced and varied and I enjoy the challenge to keep up with technological advances. I have had the exceptional opportunity to be involved in a project from concept, through to design, testing and manufacture. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing something you have been working on coming off the assembly line.” Lesley is working towards Chartered Engineer status with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers."  Read more about Lesley's story>

Lauren's story

Lauren Cross - Hyster-Yale

Lauren Cross is a Test and Development Engineer with Hyster-Yale and loves her job.

Technology has always been Lauren's favourite subject. She studied Technology, Physics and Maths for A level and also completed an AS Level in Politics. After leaving school she studied for a Masters degree in Product Design Engineering, in the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Queens University in Belfast. “The degree covered so many aspects of engineering from CAD, to Rapid Prototyping to Economics / Business Models to Legislation and Standards,” she said. “I don't think I could have chosen a better degree to set me up for my current job role”.

Lauren’s advice to those considering a STEM career is “Work hard and be curious! The best questions to ask usually start with “Show me how...?” Read more about Lauren's story>


STEM Podcasts

We are issuing a series of audio podcasts aimed at encouraging girls and young women top consider studying science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects and taking up STEM careers.

Listen to all of our podcasts on Spotify


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