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Women in STEM Jobs

Volume 745: debated on Wednesday 21 February 2024

2. What steps she is taking with Cabinet colleagues to help support women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs. (901498)

11. What steps she is taking with Cabinet colleagues to help support women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs. (901508)

Our priority is to ensure that everyone, regardless of background, can pursue the exciting opportunities in STEM. That ambition fully extends to the hon. Members’ constituents in Paisley and Renfrewshire North and in Livingston.

New data from Times Higher Education reveals that female science undergraduates are twice as likely to experience sexism as their peers on non-science courses. Many have reported being patronised or belittled by their male classmates, with this behaviour routinely going unchallenged by staff. What steps is the Minister taking to address the pervasive culture of sexism in STEM so that more women can be encouraged to pursue jobs in that important sector?

A key priority for this Government is ensuring that everybody, regardless of background, faces no discrimination and can pursue an occupation in STEM. I am pleased to report that the number of STEM apprenticeship starts by women this year is up by almost 8%, and since 2016 a total of almost £8 million has been awarded to 152 remarkable women role models to help them grow their businesses and innovation.

A vaccine firm in my Livingston constituency, Valneva, does lifesaving and pioneering work, and nearly 50% of its workforce are women. It does brilliant work to encourage women into STEM careers. Would the Minister consider coming to Livingston, visiting Valneva, and meeting the company and me to see at first hand the fantastic work it does?

Yes, and I commend the hon. Lady for having that very successful female-opportunity-giving firm in her constituency. I am in Scotland later this month and I will try to visit her.

There can be no better example of businesses encouraging STEM education right through school and university for both men and women than the James Dyson Foundation in Malmesbury in my constituency. Will the Minister join me in warmly thanking and congratulating Sir James Dyson on his recent contribution of £6 million to Malmesbury Primary School, which will also be available for all children in Malmesbury to promote STEM at the heart of my constituency?

I warmly congratulate the Dyson Foundation on that. It is a fantastic example of philanthropy. As my hon. Friend will know, maths education is a key building block, and we are consulting on establishing a national academy of mathematical science, backed by £6 million of funding. The consultation ends this Sunday and I hope that many hon. Members will respond.

Improving diversity in STEM is not just the right thing to do; it is vital to our future success. Diversity brings new ways of thinking, a better understanding and a new approach. Can the Minister ensure that the Department for Education encourages people to think about STEM careers at the earliest possible level, particularly in primary schools?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about diversity in STEM starting at the earliest possible age. I will of course talk to my colleagues in the Department for Education about doing precisely that.

A number of my constituents who work in STEM areas have expressed concerns about female research partners currently in Gaza. Can the Minister confirm whether any discussions have taken place with colleagues at the Home Office about providing emergency visas to female STEM academics who are currently working in collaboration with UK partners?

I am not aware of that, but I will happily ask the question of Home Office colleagues and write to the hon. Lady.