Promoting Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects is essential to our economic future.
These fields pervade our daily lives and are the ones where we are most likely to create jobs and develop new, world-class companies.
A report issued earlier this year by Santander Bank and the manufacturing organisation Make UK underlines the economic value of just one of the Stem-related sectors – life sciences. The report highlighted how revenue within UK life sciences companies grew by £6.8 billion in 2017.
Meanwhile, a report by Tech Nation ranked the UK as fourth in the world for technology start-up investment, further underlining the potential of another important Stem-related sector. For this reason, the 2020 AccelerateHER Awards programme for female business founders is targeting those companies which sit under the Stem banner.
The programme is focused on firms in the four Stem-related categories of medtech and science; fintech and cyber security; cleantech and climate; or disruptive innovation.
Women have been making progress increasing their numbers in Stem in recent years – but it’s only been modest. According to UCAS figures, the number of females in the UK graduating in core Stem subjects grew from 22,020 in 2015 to 24,000 in 2018.
While the rise in numbers is welcome, this has occurred amidst rapid growth in the number of men graduating in these subject areas. The actual percentage of women in Stem has only risen from 25 to 26 in that period.
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There are, however, also positive developments around female Stem representation. Scottish Government figures from 2016 report a 20 per cent rise in women starting undergraduate Stem courses since 2007. Female representation within technology remains low, but it too is increasing. Women such as Ana Stewart, Scotland’s only female founder to float a fintech company, are now emerging in the sector and serving as role models.
The IT training body CodeClan is also focused on getting more females enrolled in its professional software development course.
Meanwhile, The Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s eminent body for science and technology – currently run by a female CEO and also chaired by a woman – has significantly increased its number of female fellows over recent years. Its Enterprise Fellowships programme has supported Stem-related companies including Cytochroma, founded by Kate Cameron who was also one of the 2019 AccelerateHER Award finalists.
Encouraging more established businesswomen to become investors is another key part of the Stem equation. In the US, the steady growth in female business angels has been echoed by a rise in women pitching high-growth companies for investment.
The number of US women business angels has grown from just eight to more than 25 per cent in recent years. This has clearly benefited female founders by creating an encouraging environment and, more importantly, giving them access to finance so they can grow their firms. This is something that groups like ours are focused on replicating in Scotland.
The AccelerateHER Awards programme run by Investing Women has also helped to further raise the profile of Stem-related, female-founded firms.
Participants have also benefited through practical support such as business boot camps, advice on pitching for investment, and access to international trade missions. Fourteen of the winner/finalist companies involved in AccelerateHER have raised nearly £24 million in investment to date.
As well as continuing to increase female representation within Stem, more support and effort is needed to encourage women to commercialise their knowledge and set up a business. This is essential in delivering greater equality in Scotland and ensuring we fully grasp economic opportunities to create jobs, prosperity and a brighter future for all.
Jackie Waring, CEO at Investing Women.