Tackling gender imbalance in colleges and universities – whose job is it anyway?

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) held a workshop on 31 May 2016 to share the findings of research carried out by the Higher Education Academy which mapped the approaches being used to address gender imbalance in Scotland’s colleges and universities, to assess what approaches work best and why. The findings of the research are outlined in a report, Whose Job is it Anyway? Analysis of approaches to tackling gender imbalances at the subject level in Scotland’s colleges and universities.

The aim of the research was to:

  • Map initiatives in Scotland’s colleges and universities to tackle gender imbalances
  • Assess what approaches work best and why
  • Assess what approaches don’t work and understand what lessons can be learned
  • Recommend actions to achieve sustained improvements.

One of the key objectives in Ayrshire College’s 2014-17 Strategic Plan is to challenge gender stereotyping in career and learning choices. Significant efforts have been made on this priority for action over the past two years, and the work the College is doing to tackle gender imbalance in subject areas like care, engineering and computing was referenced extensively throughout the Higher Education Academy report.

At the workshop representatives from colleges, universities, NUS Scotland, Skills Development Scotland, Equate Scotland, the Equality Challenge Unit and the College Development Network heard presentations from Fiona Burns, Access Policy Lead at SFC and from the author of the research report, Dr Pauline Hanesworth from the Higher Education Academy.

Vice Principal Jackie Galbraith, a member of the SFC Gender Steering Group, took part in the workshop, along with Angela Alexander, Ayrshire College Student President and Jane Henderson, the College’s Developing the Young Workforce Manager.

In this article, Jackie outlines the challenges we are trying to address, summarises the conclusions of the report and describes the approach taken by Ayrshire College to tackling gender imbalance.


The context and the challenge

In June 2016, statistical publications from Skills Development Scotland (Modern Apprenticeship Statistics Full Year Report 2015/16) and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (Annual Statistics Report 2015) demonstrated that there is still much to do to address gender imbalance in Modern Apprenticeship frameworks, college courses and subject qualifications at school.

Scotland’s youth employment strategy, Developing the Young Workforce, has a KPI (key performance indicator) to reduce the number of Modern Apprenticeship frameworks with a 75:25 or worse gender balance to 60% of  frameworks by 2021. In 2015/16, 74% of MA frameworks had a gender balance of 75:25 or worse.

For colleges, one of the KPIs is to increase by five percentage points the minority gender share in each of the ten largest and most imbalanced subjects by 2021. These are long-term targets which rely on shifting deeply ingrained social and cultural factors. As an illustration of the challenge, look at female and male entries to Higher National Certificates/Diplomas in 2015.  The challenge continues at university and the following diagram, based on figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency published in February 2016, shows that the numbers of female graduates in areas like the physical sciences, computing and the built environment declined in 2015 compared to the previous year.


So, we have a problem. At a time when high quality, high value jobs abound in sectors like digital, the built environment and engineering, these industries persistently fail to attract women – despite considerable efforts by many employers and others to address this. Similarly, jobs growth in the early years sector is clear and the value of having more men in that sector is increasingly understood – yet the number of males continues to be low.

Enter the Scottish Funding Council’s gender action plan.

The SFC Gender Action Plan 

Fiona Burns outlined the ambitions set out in the Scottish Funding Council’s interim Gender Action Plan which was published in February 2016. By 2020, SFC is asking all colleges and universities to ensure that:

  • Actions to improve gender equality are mainstreamed
  • There are targeted approaches to tackling underrepresentation at a subject level
  • All widening participation initiatives will be focused on achieving more admissions from males and females.

By 2030, SFC is asking all colleges and universities to ensure that no subject has an extreme gender imbalance (75:25) and universities to reduce the gap between males and females in undergraduate study to five percentage points.

Fiona invited workshop participants to identify the key messages from the report that are of most useful in tackling gender imbalances, and what the SFC should do to enable the sectors to use the research to shape policy and practice. The outcomes from discussions on the day will inform the final version of the Gender Action Plan which is due to be published later in the summer.

Research findings

Dr Pauline Hanesworth presented the findings and recommendations of the research project, describing a framework of action. Seven themes for tackling gender imbalance effectively emerged in the research. These were:

  1. Strategic approaches – adopt a stronger strategic oversight that could maximise staff capacity and impact potential
  2. Mechanisms for success – capitalise on existing mechanisms
  3. Evidencing impact – develop understanding of what the results of tackling gender imbalances look like
  4. External enablers – connect to external activity
  5. Student involvement – support for the continuity and capacity of students as partners in tackling gender imbalances
  6. Cross-sector support – colleges and universities learning from each other’s specific experiences and expertise
  7. Subject focus – focus on all subject imbalances.

A framework for action, represented in the diagram below, was offered for consideration.


At the centre of the framework is a commitment to support subject choice and challenge gender stereotypes. Two foundations are required to support this commitment – institutional infrastructure and sector support.

1. Institutional infrastructure

  • Systems for strategic oversight and institutional commitment
  • Staff development and resource support
  • Mechanisms to develop and support effective relationships.

2. Sector support

  • Mechanisms for collaborative partnership working
  • Capacity and finance
  • Further research and resources.

Supporting these foundations are four areas of focus:

  1. Influencing the influencers
  2. Raising awareness and impacting on aspirations
  3. Encouraging applications
  4. Supporting student success

Finally, a number of enablers in the outer circle of the framework diagram were identified to ensure successful application of the model.

The main recommendations in the report are that colleges and universities should:

1. Develop institutional commitment to tackle student gender participation imbalances

2. Develop the capacity and motivation of all staff to tackle student gender participation imbalances

3. Adopt a theory of change methodology for the development of approaches

4. Develop holistic and longitudinal approaches that support young people throughout their educational choice process

5. Adopt a multi-pronged approach that combines the four areas of focus described above

6. Support student involvement in approaches through the development of student-led, student/staff co-created and student-delivered initiatives

7. Work in collaboration with other institutions and in partnership with other sectors

In addition, national sector agencies are encouraged to:

8. Develop a national campaign and strategy for tackling of gender inequality

9. Create a virtual and physical hub of and for practitioners tackling student gender participation imbalances

10. Broaden the remits of sector agencies and organisations to support the gender equality work of colleges and universities


The Ayrshire College approach

So, whose job is it to tackle gender imbalance in college and university courses? The Higher Education Academy report reached the conclusion that it is all of our jobs.

We agree, and well before this research was conducted we were already making progress on the recommendations subsequently outlined for colleges. Tackling inequalities underpins all of the College’s strategic documents including our Outcome Agreement and our work to address gender imbalance in careers and learning choices takes many forms.

Sparking an interest in STEM at a young age is very important and the College does this in a range of ways, for example by supporting Primary Engineer in primary schools, by running CoderDojo coding clubs (including girls-only clubs) for young people from the age of 7 and by organising STEM workshops for female pupils in college campuses. This interest in STEM needs to be sustained throughout primary and secondary school and onto college, and influencing those who influence young people’s subject and career choices is vital. For example, at our recent annual employers’ dinner the theme was tackling gender stereotypes in careers.

Central to our approach to tackling gender imbalance is working with students and we support the Ayrshire College Student Association’s  #ThisAyrshireGirlCan campaign to encourage women to study for careers which are traditionally dominated by men in areas like engineering, technology and construction. In March 2016, in partnership with the College, the Student Association created a film to celebrate female STEM students.

Working in partnership with local, regional and national organisations is important in tackling gender imbalance and underpins the Ayrshire College approach. Supported with funding from Skills Development Scotland, we produced a video series #WhatIActuallyDo to tackle gender imbalance in STEM apprenticeships by raising awareness of what apprentices actually do in their jobs. The short films featured five female engineering apprentices working in Hyspec Engineering, GSK, Prestwick Aircraft Maintenance, Spirit Aerosystems and Woodward. As well as interviews with the apprentices on what motivated them to pursue their chosen career and short films showing a day in the life of the apprentice, there are interviews with their employers talking about the benefits of apprenticeships to their companies.

The young women in these short films offer positive role models for others. One of the apprentices featured in the video series, Abbie Robb, reached the final for the Interconnect Scotland STEM Student of the Year award – the only apprentice and college student to do so! On International Women’s Day this year, Abbie spoke about her experience as an apprentice aircraft engineer to an audience of over 100 primary and secondary school girls and female STEM students.

When young women embark on STEM courses, we want to ensure they get the best possible experience which builds their confidence in moving on after college in the sector of their choice. On Monday 13 June we launched Ayrshire Connects – a mentoring network for female STEM students across the College to connect to each other, to students in other colleges and universities, to employers and women in the industry sectors they aspire to enter, and to senior pupils in secondary schools across Ayrshire. We are looking forward to working with Equate Scotland to connect the Ayrshire network to Interconnect Scotland.

ayrshire connects

Throughout the year, the College takes every opportunity to promote women in STEM by organising events and social media campaigns, for example around Girls in ICT Day in April every year and Ada Lovelace Day in October. Look out for new stories on our blog leading up to National Women in Engineering Day (#NWED16) on 23 June.

And, it’s not just about supporting women in male-dominated areas – we also have sustained activity to encourage boys and men into female-dominated sectors like care through our #ThisManCares campaign.

Follow us on social media to find out more about how we are tackling gender imbalance or get in touch with me at jackie.galbraith@ayrshire.ac.uk – we would love to hear from you.


Want to know more? Click on the links below

Whose Job is it Anyway? Higher Education Academy report

SFC Interim Gender Action Plan

Alison Malcolm, SFC Policy Officer – blog post on the SFC Gender Action Plan

#ThisManCares – Ayrshire College campaign to attract men into courses and careers in care

#ThisAyrshireGirlCan – Ayrshire College Student Association campaign to promote women in STEM

#WhatIActuallyDo – Ayrshire College video campaign highlighting female apprentices in science and engineering

#WhatIActuallyDo

Ayrshire College is committed to tackling gender stereotyping in career and learning choices. Here is a summary of some of our recent work on this and what’s coming next.


During Scottish Apprentice Week 2016 we featured stories on our blog from female apprentices working in Ayrshire. We are sure that their stories will inspire other young people to consider a career in engineering and science.

DSC_9530

On International Women’s Day 2016, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP visited Ayrshire College to launch the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan film. The video was the brainchild of the college’s inspirational Student President Angela Alexander, and features 22 female students and apprentices forging careers in science, technology and engineering.

Today is the start of British Science Week which runs from 11-20 March. It’s an exciting programme of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) events and activities across the UK for people of all ages.

British Science Week provides another great platform to raise awareness of exciting careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and a great opportunity to launch our newest campaign – #WhatIActuallyDo.

Meagan Forrest 3

Supported by funding from the Skills Development Scotland’s Equality Challenge Fund, the #WhatIActuallyDo campaign aims to improve the perception of careers in STEM by school pupils. We aim to dispel myths about what jobs in the industry actually are and raise the aspirations of young women to seek apprenticeships within the sector.

We’ve been working with employers to showcase young female apprentices and find out what they actually do in their jobs. We’ve created ‘a day in the life’ videos of apprentices from Spirit Aerosystems, Hyspec Engineering, Woodward and Ryanair – as well as interviews and blog posts giving us an insight into why they chose this career and what they love about their job as well as their hopes for the future.

You can access all of these videos here:

https://m.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLUVXqS_S-92li8isnJYNM8C7Z-IrwO9d6

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP on #ThisAyrshireGirlCan

On International Women’s Day 2016 the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, visited the Kilwinning Campus of Ayrshire College to launch the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan film. The video was the brainchild of the college’s inspirational Student President, Angela Alexander, and features 22 female students and apprentices forging careers in science, technology and engineering.

Here is what the First Minister said to the 100 Ayrshire primary and secondary school pupils and students who attended the film premiere.



It’s fantastic to join so many other Ayrshire girls to celebrate International Women’s Day, and to launch this hugely worthwhile initiative.

And thanks also to Abbie and Adele, for providing such great role models of young women in science. There are many others. Last year’s modern apprentice of the year for the whole of Scotland was Laura Black, who is an engineer for BAE systems on the Clyde. 12 of the 18 Science Festivals in Scotland are run by women. I’m fortunate enough to meet excellent female apprentices, researchers, employees and managers on visits to colleges, universities and factories across Scotland.

They follow a distinguished history of women in science in Scotland. You might have seen that the Royal Bank of Scotland recently decided to put Mary Somerville on its new £10 banknotes. She was a nineteenth century astronomer from Jedburgh, whose work was very influential in leading to the discovery of planet Neptune. She now has a crater on the moon named after her.

But despite that history, and the many modern examples and role models we see in Scotland, women are still seriously underrepresented in science and engineering. For example in Engineering and Energy related modern apprenticeships last year, 96% of new starts were male.

That’s not a reflection of any lack of talent or ability. It’s a reflection of the fact that there are incredibly talented and resourceful girls and young women who for some reason – whether it’s the advice they receive, the stereotypes they see in the media, or the role models they have available to them – decide not to choose subjects and careers they’re very well suited to.

That limits their opportunities as individuals. And it also holds Scotland back as a nation.

It’s worth thinking about some of the work in Scotland which depends on science, technology, engineering or maths. The engineering work required to complete the new Queensferry Crossing over the Forth; the research taking place into offshore wind, wave and tidal power in Scotland; the developments in life sciences being pioneered in educational research facilities and in manufacturing plants; the work of our digital media and hi-tech companies.

The people who are working on those projects are boosting our economic growth, and they’re also making a big difference to people’s quality of life.

For example I visited the Glaxosmithkline plant at Irvine two weeks ago. The expansion of the facility there will apparently enable them to produce antibiotics for an additional 100 million patients every year. Being involved in that, or in energy research, or in manufacturing, is an incredibly worthwhile thing to be doing.

So we need many more talented people to go into these areas in the future.

And we want half of them to be young women. Scotland won’t be as successful as it can be, if we continue to underuse the talent and potential of half of our population.

That’s why the Scottish Government has supported the Careerwise programme – which encourages women to take up modern apprenticeships in careers related to science, technology, engineering and maths, and which offers female undergraduates high quality work placements.

It’s also why tackling gender segregation is an important part of our implementation plan for developing Scotland’s young workforce.

And it’s why I’m delighted to support this initiative. No girl in Ayrshire – or anywhere else – should be put off from their ambitions by preconceived ideas.

It’s important that everyone understands that you can study science, technology, engineering and maths. You can take up jobs in in medical research, energy or aeronautics, and in digital media. For science and for engineering – as for any area in life – if you have the ability, and if you work hard enough, you can achieve your dreams.

And by doing that, you can have a great career, and you can make a positive difference to the world around you.

That’s the message that this video is designed to put across. It’s one which is well worth supporting. So I commend Ayrshire College for launching this initiative. And I wish all of you all the best for the future.


Watch the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan video

Guest post – Student President Angela Alexander on #ThisAyrshireGirlCan

What motivated you to initiate the campaign?

The Ayrshire College Student Association developed the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan initiative after being inspired by the #ThisGirlCan campaign which encouraged women into sport and celebrated their achievement. We felt that Ayrshire College had some pretty inspirational women of its own – and not just in sport!

I wanted to see a change in Ayrshire and the college also had plans to address this, so we worked on it together. From the start, the college has supported the student association to develop a strong campaign that may help us see changes in Ayrshire in the not so distant future.

How did the campaign get going?

We started with a celebration on International Women’s Day in 2015 by asking students to make a pledge on standing up for equality for women, about women being strong. Both men and women supported us on the day – including the college Chair Willie Mackie, Willie Coffey MSP and Alan Brown MP. The encouragement I got on that day made me think about how I could turn this into something bigger.

What is the focus of the campaign?

I spoke with our Principal and other members of staff to see how I could help address the gender imbalance by developing a more sustainable student association campaign specifically for the sports department. This is when I realised that the biggest area where women are under-represented was in the area of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). In the UK, women make up 47% of our workforce but only 13% in the STEM sector.

We decided that our campaign should celebrate women who have embarked on studying towards careers such as engineering, technology and trades which are traditionally dominated by males. We wanted to help address the gender imbalance in these subjects and show that if this Ayrshire girl can, any girl can.

What are your hopes for the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan film?

In partnership with the college, education, industry and the third sector, we hope that the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan film will help to attract girls at an early age to subjects which are currently dominated by their male counterparts.

It is important for families to understand the opportunities available to young people and help foster an environment where future career choices are based on interest and aptitude, rather than gender.

The film celebrates 22 women on STEM courses at Ayrshire College – including Modern Apprentices working in companies like GSK, Hyspec Engineering and Spirit Aerosystems. A copy of the film will be distributed to every primary and secondary school in Ayrshire. We hope that the inspirational women in the film will inspire others into STEM.  

What next?

I never thought that the campaign would be as successful as it has been – it was even been shortlisted in the NUS Scotland Campaign of the Year award!

Watch the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan video

Who can be an engineer? This Ayrshire Girl Can!

For International Women’s Day, vice principal Jackie Galbraith talks about the efforts being made by Ayrshire College and the Ayrshire College Student Association to tackle gender imbalance in areas like engineering.


One hundred years ago this month, during the First World War, Glasgow munitions worker Jeannie Riley wrote to her husband who was stationed in France. In her letter she said:

“I am still sticking in at my work. I will be an engineer before long. There are 25 more women coming in on Monday and we were told that the amount of work we do in three weeks would have taken the men three years.” Sadly, Jeannie would not have had the chance to become an engineer – the jobs carried out by women during the war went back to the men when they returned.

Changes in society, medicine and technology in the UK over the past century have benefited women enormously. However, the proportion of women in the engineering workforce has not kept up with developments elsewhere. The 2015 IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology) annual skills survey showed that just 9% of the engineering workforce is female, and only 6% of registered engineers and technicians are women.

Despite the heritage of women like Jeannie who broke into science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) during and following the war, the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe.  And, while opportunities in engineering are growing, there is not a corresponding increase in the take-up by women.

I wonder what Jeannie would have thought about this?

Across the UK, companies are crying out for engineers – 64% of engineering employers say a shortage of engineers is a threat to their business. The average age of an engineer is 54 and there are not enough young people studying engineering to fill the projected growth in jobs. So, the industry is in real trouble if it continues to fail to attract young people, and young women in particular.

Some engineering companies are making concerted efforts to attract more young people and to address gender imbalance. On a recent visit to Spirit Aerosystems to meet third-year engineering apprentice Anna Manson, we were greeted with a poster which neatly summed up the company’s commitment to this. – Building bodies. Shaping Minds.

Spirit is focused on ‘equipping young people with the skills necessary to be successful’ because ‘the young minds we help shape today are the body builders of the future.’ This simple statement captures very well what developing the young workforce is all about.

Ayrshire has a higher proportion of manufacturing jobs than the Scottish average, which means that there continues to be great opportunities in engineering for young people in sectors like aerospace and life science.

Each year, throughout the year, Ayrshire College takes every opportunity to stimulate young people’s interest in STEM courses and careers, and to highlight and celebrate the contribution of girls and women in STEM. Last month, for example, we hosted a very successful Girls into STEM workshop for second year schoolgirls in East Ayrshire secondary schools.

This week, our Student Association is launching a film to mark the one-year anniversary of its #ThisAyrshireGirlCan campaign. The campaign celebrates women studying towards careers which are traditionally dominated by men such as engineering, technology and trades. It aims to address gender imbalance in these areas and show that if this Ayrshire girl can, any girl can!

During Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2016, the college launched a series of videos of young women working in engineering and manufacturing companies across Ayrshire, featuring apprentices like Anna Manson below. These apprentices describe what they actually do in the workplace and what motivated them to choose STEM as a career.

Have a look at the videos at https://m.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLUVXqS_S-92li8isnJYNM8C7Z-IrwO9d6

Research carried out by Olivia Jones at the National Centre for Universities and Business shows that young women don’t have an innate dislike for engineering. She found that when you emphasise the creative, people-based, problem-solving and environmental aspects of engineering girls start to see the appeal. Olivia said:

“We have to talk to girls about engineering honestly and in a way that they conveys how relevant and exciting it actually is. When girls are presented with real women who are engineers they can see that engineering doesn’t need to be dressed up to be interesting and that engineers are normal men and women who they can relate to.

I have no doubt that girls (and boys) will relate to the young women in the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan film produced by our Student Association and in the #WhatIActuallyDo videos created by the college. The female engineering apprentices featured in our blog back up Olivia’s research.

Who knows, if Jeannie Riley had lived in this century she might have ended up an engineering apprentice like Anna!


RAISING ASPIRATIONS | INSPIRING ACHIEVEMENT | INCREASING OPPORTUNITIES