Women in STEM in 2024: 4 Common Misconceptions

Empowering the Next Generation

If 2024 has taught us anything so far, it’s that closing the gender pay gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields should remain a priority. In the interests of keeping fervent discussions alive and well, following International Women’s Day, it’s important to not let prevalent issues fall by the wayside.


women working in stem

According to a recent report compiled by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), there are now over one million women in STEM occupations, but they still only account for 29% of the overall UK STEM workforce. While progress has undeniably been made, it’s evident that the UK needs to still actively encourage more women into the industry.


It doesn’t help that persistent myths and misconceptions still hinder women’s full participation and advancement in these crucial areas, while the industry itself still continues to be perceived as a male-only industry. If young, impressionable women are exposed to inaccurate, misleading and outdated theories of the industry, it only furthers this divide and discourages more women from pursuing these subjects.


It’s vital that we debunk these common inaccuracies and continue to hold meaningful conversations about women entering STEM fields. By shedding light on these fallacies and encouraging greater industry-wide gender representation at multiple touchpoints, we can pave the way for a more inclusive and innovative future.


Misconception #1: Women Lack Interest in STEM

This outdated theory suggests that women are inherently disinterested in STEM subjects, perpetuating the stereotype that these fields are primarily male domains.


However, statistics tell a different story. According to recent data from UCAS, there have been marginal upticks and increases in the number of female applications to study STEM subjects in higher education, including Computing, Physical Sciences and Mathematical Sciences. While the UCAS research (conducted in late 2023) points to women only accounting for 26% of the STEM workforce and does not align with the IET report which found that this percentage was roughly 29% (based on early 2024 data), the increase in these core fields is still a positive. It certainly does not indicate a lack of interest.


Furthermore, it would be naive to suggest that technology – a crucial and accessible component of everyday life – does not inspire interest. Nearly 18% of young women now use generative AI tools every day at work or during studies, with 75% reportedly interested in the exploding and ever-evolving field of generative AI, believing it will help their career prospects.


Misconception #2: Women Don’t Possess the Necessary STEM Skills

Some still cling to the belief that women lack the analytical, problem-solving, and technical skills required for success in STEM careers.

girls in stem

This misconception not only underestimates women’s abilities but also ignores the countless examples of female pioneers and innovators who have made groundbreaking contributions to STEM fields throughout history, from Ada Lovelace to Katherine Johnson. If anything, this theory can be quashed when looking at 2023 STEM GCSE data, where across all STEM subjects, 68.2% of results were grade 4/C or above, with girls achieving a higher figure (71.7%) compared to boys (64.9%).


Gender has no bearing on a person’s innate ability or capacity to acquire the skills needed for STEM. With proper encouragement, education, and mentorship, women can excel in these fields just as their male counterparts do. This doesn’t just apply to sought-after graduate job fields like medicine, research and finance, but also niche sectors that encourage technical and creative mindsets like digital marketing.


Justin Aldridge, Technical Director at Artemis Marketing (an SEO agency with a diverse workforce), shares his perspective on this outdated notion:


At Artemis, we’ve witnessed firsthand the incredible talent and expertise that the talented women here bring to the table. In largely mathematical and analytical fields like technical SEO, digital PR and web development, their skills and contributions have been invaluable to our team’s success.


Misconception #3: Women Lack Competitiveness

The notion that women are inherently less competitive than men and therefore ill-suited for the demanding nature of STEM careers is another myth that needs debunking.


While some studies suggest that, on average, women may exhibit slightly lower levels of competitiveness, this generalisation fails to account for individual differences and ignores the many highly competitive and driven women who have excelled in STEM fields. Moreover, competitiveness is not a determining factor of success in these areas. Collaboration and creativity are equally important qualities that women often bring to the table, not to mention their ability to offer unique and diverse perspectives.


Misconception #4: Women Prioritise Family Over Career

This misconception suggests that women are less committed to their careers in STEM due to an apparent prioritisation of family life and responsibilities. However, this assumption is both unfair and harmful; it implies that men should be awarded executive positions over women on the basis that they’ll be more dedicated to a company.

Statistically, women have been proven to be just as – if not more – ambitious and committed as their male counterparts. An increasing number of women in executive or leadership positions have proven that they can successfully balance their professional and personal lives, shattering the notion that they must choose between career and family.


Penny Power OBE, Entrepreneur and Founder of Ecademy, has made a very successful impact on the STEM world. She recently shared the importance of mindset, and positively supports the belief of being able to balance continuing professional achievements with raising a family:

I needed to have control over my values and the impact I wanted to have. I also needed to have control over my own time. That was especially important when I became a mummy. I ended up having three children. I needed to feel that I could achieve both. I think it’s possible to achieve both, I really do.”

Furthermore, many companies these days have implemented family-friendly policies and flexible work arrangements, enabling women and men to thrive in their STEM careers while also fulfilling their family obligations.


Paving the Way Forward

Quashing these outdated theories and misconceptions is crucial, but it is only the first step. It’s clear that more needs to be done to truly empower women in STEM, and addressing these misconceptions is a vital part of triggering more meaningful conversations.


In the meantime, tech businesses and organisations can continue to bridge the still lingering and noticeable gaps in the following ways:

  • Provide equal access to STEM training and resources among the women in your team.
  • Foster an interest in STEM and build on the confidence in girls to pursue the field, demonstrating the enrichment and lucrative career opportunities, while also being realistic and setting expectations that obstacles will, unfortunately, still persist.
  • Offer mentorship and sponsorship opportunities that connect women with successful role models and advocates.
  • Implement diversity and inclusion initiatives within STEM workplaces to create a welcoming and supportive environment for all.
  • Challenge unconscious biases and promote equitable hiring, evaluation, and advancement practices.
  • Celebrate the achievements and contributions of women in STEM, inspiring future generations to follow in their footsteps.


Embracing diversity and ensuring equal opportunities can allow organisations – in tech and beyond – to unlock and recognise the full potential of women in STEM, driving innovation, economic growth, and societal progress.