Jacqueline Gallazzi-Ritchie is the director of boiler cover provider All England Gas. Here, she discusses what the plumbing trade can do to get more women into STEM positions.
Historically, STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects have been largely dominated by men. Although, research has shown that the number of women graduating in core STEM subjects is slowly rising. From 2017–2018, the percentage of STEM graduates that were female increased from 25% to 26%, but this amount is still far too low when you consider that women make up half of the world’s population (WISE).
At school level, STEM subjects are usually compulsory in some form, but it’s once we get to A-Level age that there starts to become a clear difference between the numbers. Surprisingly, girls are more likely than boys to take biology and are just as likely to take chemistry, but subjects like physics and maths only see an uptake of 22% and 39% from girls respectively, according to a report published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. As we move onto degree level, even fewer girls decide to study a STEM subject.
There is no real reason why these girls can’t go on to succeed in STEM professions, so why are there still so few women in these areas? I think it’s largely down to confidence. Since these subjects are still largely male-dominated, there is still a stigma around women entering the sector, but the men that currently dominate it are actually really welcoming to women in the industry.
I admit that even I didn’t choose to study STEM subjects but, instead, went down the path of law. After I had spent 15 years in a mixture of land law, conveyance, and property development, I set up and ran a property services company, where plumbing and heating played a big part in alterations and replacements. I was then approached to conduct boiler servicing, and this gradually expanded until I had hired a professional Heating Engineer and my company, All England Gas, was incorporated. So, my entry into this area was completely accidental.
A woman's view of the plumbing trade
But, having worked in the heating and plumbing industry for many years now, I’ve been able to identify some things that could be done to lead more girls into STEM subjects initially. I think the biggest thing we can do is to show them more female role models at a young age and assure them that they are equal to their male counterparts. This will hopefully help to give these young women the confidence to study and work in STEM areas, because they will see that it can be done.
Once they’re in the workplace, we need to bridge the gender pay gap and give them the same opportunities. At All England Gas, I make sure that all my suitably qualified male and female engineers are given equal work. On top of this, our office team has always had roughly an equal number of men and women.
I think that there are some great opportunities out there for women in STEM and, as we strive to promote a truly equal workplace, women are always going to be welcomed with open arms. So, the biggest piece of advice I would give any young woman looking to enter the plumbing and heating industry — or any STEM sector for that matter — is to not be afraid and do what you want to do.
The number of women working within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics sector is still very low. But, by introducing positive female role models and showing young women that these industries will welcome them as much as their male counterparts, we can take steps towards breaking that glass ceiling.