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The number of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is growing, yet men still continue to outnumber women, especially at the upper levels of these professions.

The STEM gender gap

Kathleen M Kelm is Honorary Senior Lecturer with the University of Liverpool Online Programmes, teaching across the University’s online IT offering. While the number of women entering STEM fields is growing Kathleen believes there is still more to be done.

“The gender gap is all too apparent in senior positions in STEM fields – for example, women tend to hit a glass ceiling once they get into project management roles. They move up to senior project management level because they’re good at managing teams but they’re not always viewed as executive decision makers. They’re not always being given the opportunity to innovate the way they should be,” says Kathleen.

“The best IT infrastructure and the best innovation comes from a multiple perspective decision-making process, which doesn’t happen if you only have one gender in the room – you need both.”

Cultural and societal values

Societal and cultural values of gender seem to play a big part in the reason women may or may not study STEM subjects.

Kathleen explains that some of her female students are motivated to take up studying because they are trying to keep-up with male colleagues. “When I ask females why they’ve chosen to do a master’s degree it’s almost always wanting to gain as much credibility as their male counterparts. Even if they have more knowledge than their male counterparts they feel they need that additional credential.

I have a Canadian student who is doing her master’s degree with Liverpool online because as a female without a master’s degree, she feels she is not being seen as an expert.”

How can we encourage women to study STEM subjects?

Mentoring may be the key to piquing women’s interests in STEM fields, believes Kathleen.

Anyone studying for a master’s needs to have a passion for the subject if they’re going to succeed and a keen interest in the subject. This is what drives her students to get ahead.

“I had a nurse come and do a second degree with us – she liked nursing but she liked computers more. She combined her experience and interests and now she’s a medical informatics specialist.”

Studying STEM subjects with the University of Liverpool online

The University of Liverpool is taking positive steps to encourage women to explore the idea of studying STEM subjects such as Information Technology.

The University of Liverpool is a member of the Athena SWAN Charter for Women in Science and Engineering, and was awarded an Athena Swan Institutional Bronze Award in 2010, which was renewed in 2014.

The Faculty of Science and Engineering and Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at the University of Liverpool also run an initiative called LivWiSE (Liverpool Women in Science & Engineering), that celebrates, supports and promotes women in science, technology, engineering and math.

The University welcomes applications from women professionals globally who want to advance their IT-related knowledge and skills with a 100% online postgraduate degree. The University offers a full suite of online master’s and one-year postgraduate certificate programmes that are designed to empower working professionals around the world to move into or move up in IT-related management careers.

Subjects offered include: Big Data Analytics, Cyber Security, Software Engineering and Information Systems Management. The master’s degrees include the world’s first to receive accreditation from BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.

Balancing your degree and your personal life

The convenience of studying online combined with the flexibility of the IT platform is often what draws women to study IT online. “Information Technology is one of the best fields for women to be in because it offers a level of flexibility that many other fields do not,” says Kathleen.

Many students are not only working while they study but also raising a family so it’s important that their degree gives them the freedom to continue with their commitments and personal life.

Olufunmilola Ozoh, from Nigeria, is a graduate of the University of Liverpool’s MSc in Computer and Information Security online programme (now replaced by the MSc in Cyber Security). She enjoyed the flexibility of doing a degree online. “My schedule – children and work – would not have allowed me to get a master’s otherwise. I needed a programme that could fit into my life.”

Benefits of learning online

Kathleen’s students really experience the benefit of doing an online degree and learning in a global online classroom.

“When you go into an online degree programme you become so much more aware of where and how technology is being used and the consequences of its use.

Often I’ll hear from students after they’ve taken the security class in the MSc in Cyber Security degree or the MSc in Information Technology, and one of the very first things they say is ‘I had no idea of the challenges in other areas of the world’.

If you’re only ever learning from people who have the same experience as you, you’ll never acquire these types of global insights. How would anyone that lives in Arizona in the USA know that Nigeria is way ahead in the use of smart phones and mobile banking if they know nothing about it?”

Olufunmilola wants to study online again soon. “I’m planning to do another online course – probably a PhD – because my experience with University of Liverpool has been very rewarding.”

University of Liverpool – a leader in IT research

A UK leader for research excellence, the University of Liverpool’s Department of Computer Science is a UK leader in IT research. The 2014 Research Excellence Framework rated 97% of the department’s research as being world-leading or internationally excellent – the highest proportion of any Computer Science department in the UK.

Find out more about the Information Technology degrees offered online with the University of Liverpool.

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