UK: Women In STEM - Technology, Career Pathways And The Gender Pay Gap

Last Updated: 30 September 2016
Article by Emma Codd, Jemma Venables and Harvey Lewis


Traditional gender roles, where women are perceived to be responsible for running the household and men for providing sustenance for the family, have been around for centuries. It is little wonder that these ingrained cultural norms are proving difficult to shift, despite significant advances in the role of women over the last 100 years in the world of work.

Our research shows that the gender pay gap, based on median hourly earnings for all full-time employees, is closing incrementally. However, pay parity between men and women in the UK is not forecast to be achieved until 2069 and, even then, the gap is actually widening in certain occupations, such as the skilled trades and teaching and education professionals. Significantly, though, the gap in starting salary between men and women who have studied Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects and go on to take jobs in those spheres is smaller than in any other subjects studied. If more women were to pursue careers in these areas, not only would it give them a more balanced portfolio of skills, but it would also narrow the gender pay gap for those in the early years of their working lives.

Some of the differences in pay can be traced back to societal influences that children pick up from a very young age, and to the choices they make at school and university. At GCSE, for instance, boys are much more inclined to study design and technology, and information technology, while many more girls than boys take modern languages and art and design. These differences are magnified at A-Level and in subjects taken at university – and continue into employment. Our analysis of employment data from the last 15 years alongside nearly three million university records finds that women make up just 14.4 per cent of individuals working in STEM occupations in the UK with as many as 70 per cent of women with STEM qualifications not working in relevant industries. Women are more likely than men to pursue studies – and subsequently take up employment – in caring or teaching roles. Although these jobs are less well paid than technical and commercial roles, they do place greater importance on cognitive and social skills, which we know from other Deloitte research are essential for workers to remain adaptable and employable in the future.

Technology has played an important role in the progress towards achieving gender equality. It has helped to raise the participation of women in the workplace. Also, many new jobs have been created as a consequence of the introduction of new technology in industry – jobs that demand greater cognitive and social skills rather than just technical skills like programming or physical abilities like strength. It is in these new roles and many others across the economy that women are as capable as men.

In practice, we believe that solving the gender pay gap over the long term means tackling an ingrained difference in the skills that women gain and choose to develop during their academic studies and, therefore, in the jobs they go on to take. If more women are encouraged to study STEM subjects during their education and are taught in a way that recognises their cognitive preferences, we not only prepare them for a more dynamic world of work but we simultaneously start to bridge the gap in pay. This will require clear focus by both policymakers and employers.

Deloitte is determined to continue to attract more women into our firm and increase the representation of women in senior positions. The commercial case for doing so is as compelling as the moral one – quite simply, more diverse organisations perform better. And we know that this is something our clients care about, too. Our firm reported our gender pay gap as a very public demonstration of our commitment to change. We know that we need more women in business but we also know that there is no silver bullet; meaningful change will only be brought about by a combination of change in our societal norms and culture, our education system and specific, targeted actions across business.

We hope that you find this report thought-provoking and we look forward to your feedback.


This report seeks to contribute to the debate on the gender pay gap in two ways. First, it seeks to establish the connection between the academic choices made by girls and boys (from a young age and through university life) and the choice of jobs and career pathways that they are eventually likely to make. Second, it considers future changes in the job market, how these changes are likely to affect the job choices for men and women, and whether the gender pay gap may be affected as a result.

Our key findings are summarised below:

  • Although the gender pay gap is closing steadily, we forecast that at the current rate of convergence, pay parity will not be achieved until 2069.
  • Overall, almost as many girls as boys sat GCSE in STEM subjects this year. However, three times more boys than girls took computing at GCSE level. And 50 per cent more boys than girls took design and technology, but with the number of girls awarded A* – C grades in this subject nearly 20 percentage points higher than for boys.
  • At A-Level in 2016, 40 per cent more boys than girls took STEM subjects, including Computing, Economics, Mathematics and Information and Communications Technology (ICT). However, girls continued to outperform boys in every STEM subject.
  • Even though more young women than men go to university, men are much more inclined to study technical subjects. The top two most popular university courses by subject area for women are education and subjects allied to medicine. In contrast, the most popular university courses for men are business and administrative studies and engineering and technology.
  • In employment today, more women than men work in occupations where cognitive and social skills are very important but where technical skills, including STEM skills, are not as important. While these 'softer' skills will be increasingly in demand in the age of smart machines, they also need to be part of a more balanced skills portfolio.
  • Women make up just 14 per cent of individuals working in STEM occupations in the UK, but as many as 70 per cent of women with STEM qualifications are working in non-STEM related industries.
  • Many top-paid jobs increasingly call for ability in STEM subjects. The difference in median starting salary between men and women graduates of engineering and technology, and for subjects allied to medicine and dentistry is zero.
  • Women are disproportionately more likely to go into jobs in industries or sectors where pay levels are lower. Considering all employment, based on provisional figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in 2015, the average gender gap in median hourly pay is 9.4 per cent.
  • Research shows that in the past 15 years, both men and women have benefited from technology-driven changes in the labour market. Moreover, the impact of technology on jobs undertaken by men and women is fairly balanced. Thirty-seven per cent of jobs undertaken by women are at high risk of automation in the next 10 to 20 years compared with 35 per cent of jobs undertaken by men.

We conclude that technological change will not by itself help to reduce the gender pay gap, but encouraging and enabling more girls and women into STEM subjects and onwards into STEM-related careers will.


" Gendered stereotypes about what society regards as 'men's work' and 'women's work' are a strong influence on young people throughout their education, and can have significant influence on the career choices they make."1
Government Equalities Office

The gender pay gap and its causes

According to the ONS, the gender pay gap for UKfull-time workers in 2015 (the difference between median hourly wages for men and women, expressed as a percentage of the male median wage) was 9.4 per cent.2

The government's intention is that the gap should be eliminated entirely, but the task is a complex and challenging one, not least because of the various inter-related causes of its existence.

Many women take time out from work for family reasons, and may only take on a part-time job when they eventually return to work: part-time work in general is paid less per hour than full-time work. So wanting to find a suitable balance between family and working life, combined with lower pay for part-time working, contributes significantly to the pay gap. The gender pay gap is also partly related to the age of workers; it is wider between men and women at an older age. There may also be unconscious discrimination at work and within organisations that affect decisions about jobs and pay.

On the whole, women are more likely than men to take jobs where pay is relatively low, such as in care services and some aspects of teaching. In comparison, there is a disproportionate concentration of men in jobs in high-paying sectors of the economy, such as information and technology and engineering.3 A reason for this is the difference in the choices made by boys and girls, from a young age, in the academic subjects they pursue and then in the subjects they study at university. These choices affect the skills they acquire by the time they are ready to move on at graduation from university into working life.

Decisions made early in life can have long-term implications. Our analysis of government data indicates that choices made by boys and girls, at school and university, combined in all probability with differences in attitudes that have been embedded by social conditioning, have serious implications for their future working lives – the jobs they take and the pay they receive. There is evidence to suggest that, to some extent at least, women are under-represented in high-paid jobs because, as graduates, they do not have relevant education and skills. This lack of skills can be attributed to choices made at school and in the selection of university courses.

As the requirements of work change, through technology-driven shifts and the increasing use of 'smart machines' in the workplace, the skills that women have acquired through their careers – especially cognitive and social skills – are set to become more, not less, important in the future. Deloitte's previous report, Talent for survival: Essential skills for humans working in the machine age, shows that, alongside skills and knowledge in technical subjects, these quintessentially human talents are vital if workers are to remain flexible, adaptable and employable.4 Yet the portfolio of skills that women develop are not as well balanced as they should be.

From a national perspective there is a huge amount of female talent that could be available to employers but it is not being nurtured and developed.

Technology and the future market for jobs

Much of the debate about the gender pay gap has focused on the current jobs market. In reality, however, the market is changing under the influence of automation, robotics and other developments in information technology. The jobs that will be available to men and women in 10 to 15 years' time will differ substantially from those that exist now.

  • Some types of jobs, such as secretaries and bank clerks, are much less common than they were 10 or 15 years ago. Some jobs will disappear, perhaps entirely.
  • At the same time, technology is opening up new job possibilities, which call for greater skills and which may well be better paid.
  • The demand from employers for certain existing types of work will increase and some jobs will remain more or less the same, although the skills required to perform them will change.

Since the jobs market is changing substantially, it is reasonable to ask whether the foreseeable changes might have an impact on the gender pay gap. An answer to this question can be attempted by identifying the changes in the jobs market that are likely to happen, whether the changes will affect jobs that are more likely to be taken by women or by men, and if so whether this will result in a gender pay gap that is wider or smaller.

A focus of this report is to present an analysis of the likely effect of technological change on the demand for jobs, how this will impact on the choices available to men and women, and how it might affect the gender pay gap. Based on our research, we argue that in spite of developments in technology and the changing nature of the jobs market, decisions made early in life by boys and girls will continue to affect the jobs that many of them eventually take up. Unless more girls can be encouraged and enabled to make different choices during their education, and more women encouraged to use their qualifications during their careers, the gender pay gap will persist for decades to come.

To read this Report in full, please click here.


1. "Closing the Gender Pay Gap: Government response to the consultation", Government Equalities Office, February 2016. See also:

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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