How addressing gender inequality in education is key to closing the STEM skills gap

Co-authored by Nicholas Sample, Arm School Program Manager, and Anna Malan, from Team Arm

One of the principal reasons for founding the Arm School Program is to close the STEM skills gap, which is the gap between the skills required by business and industry and those available from the talent pool of school-leavers and graduates. The gap is significant – across the UK and Europe about 40% of STEM employers have difficulty finding young people with the right skills. And the gap is set to widen: one estimate suggests that by 2020 one million computer programming jobs in the US will go unfilled. This has a huge impact on Arm and its ecosystem of partners, not only in terms of meeting existing needs but also fuelling innovation and future growth.

Arm Noida office Microbit workshop

Bridging the gender gap

The gender gap is a major contributing factor to the STEM skills gap. In the US, just 18% of computer science graduates are women. In the workplace, while 57% of occupations are held by women, in computing that figure is only about 20%. In the UK, there is a huge drop off in the number of girls studying core STEM subjects at the age of 16. Just 35% of girls choose STEM subjects compared to 94% of boys. 

It is a complex problem that is arguably as much cultural and generational as it is affected by education policy. However, evidence suggests that the source of the gender gap lies in the school years. Currently, in the UK, 40% of children participating in Code Clubs are girls, whereas just under 10% of students opting to study computing at age 16-18 are female. This and other data suggest a real need to focus our attention on the experiences of school-age learners in STEM subjects. Evidence suggests that the extent to which learners identify with science and aspire to a career in science begins to be fixed in lower secondary school. 

Microbit workshop at Malmo University

How can we begin to solve this? Evidence tells us that in order to enable change we need to focus on the day-to-day experiences of learners in the classroom. This is where the Arm School Program comes in. The Arm School Program is focused on empowering all learners with the opportunity to develop the interest, skills and knowledge that enable a lifetime of engagement in STEM. One of the ways we’ll achieve this is by developing courses and rich course content that work for all learners irrespective of gender. This means developing materials that offer opportunities for creativity and team work, and that provide authentic contextualisation to the learning. It also means providing support and training to non-specialist teachers who may lack experience and confidence in coordinating learning in STEM subjects including computing. 

Going beyond Corporate Social Responsibility

Beyond the classroom, one of the most valuable ways that we can support our future workforce is through activating our greatest asset – our people – to give back to the communities in which we operate. Through Team Arm, our employee community engagement program, everyone at Arm can use their skills, expertise and passion to make a positive societal impact and contribute to the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and we’re focusing on Goal 4 – Quality Education amongst others.  

Last year, over 60% of our volunteering supported educational outreach. Team Arm works closely with the Arm School Program to deliver our strategic priority of encouraging and supporting girls to get hands-on with technology and pursue STEM pathways. An annual highlight is Ada Lovelace Day; across our global offices, colleagues come together to run micro:bit workshops in local schools, host students for ‘insight days’ or give career talks to audiences of girls.  

It’s a win-win propositionthree women in technical roles at Arm speaking to 150 thirteen year old girls about the difference between a hardware engineer, a technical author and a performance & modelling specialist can open a girl’s eyes to the diversity of possible careers within STEM. At the same time, our people are given the chance to develop their public speaking and mentoring skills. And you only need to look at the thriving Women’s Networks that exist across our offices to see that there is a real willingness to ‘pass it on’.  

Working in partnership

We’re proud that Arm is supporting a number of partnerships with education-focused charities and social enterprises. In the UK, we’re excited to be scaling up our partnership with uptree – a professional network for young people - which will enable young people to connect with people at Arm through ‘insight days’ in our offices involving careers networking and hands-on tech workshops. In the words of one student who visited the Manchester office, the day "opened a whole new way of thinking for me with regards to what working in the technology industry is really like”. We’ll also be sponsoring uptree’s first ever ‘Young Coder of the Year Award’. In the US, we are developing a partnership with FIRST; a non-profit organisation focused on inspiring innovation and leadership in young people through engaging, team-based robotics challenges. Our US-based teams are already mentoring, coaching and judging for FIRST and we can’t wait to see how the relationship progresses.  

Ada Lovelace Day event in Cambridge

Our involvement goes beyond ‘corporate social responsibility’; we have a clear desire to make a positive impact and inspire the next generation, and we know that the best way to do this is to aim for a company in which 100% of our workforce are channelling their passion into their local communities 

Arm is in a unique and exciting position to harness the expertise and power of people and our partner ecosystem towards solving the issues that will hold back our industry if left unaddressed. That’s why we’re working with Arm partners including micro:bit and organisations such as Computing At School and Designing Our Tomorrow to make a positive difference in the classroom and beyond.

About the Arm School Program