The MINT world (MINT = mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology) is still predominantly a male domain – only a few women are trying to establish themselves professionally there. This is also confirmed by the MINT 2021 autumn report of the German Economic Institute: According to this, the low proportion of women in MINT professions (only 15.5% in October 2021) is striking – and worrying from the point of view economy.
This development is exacerbated by the growing shortage of skilled workers. The need for well-trained experts is increasing, but there are not enough qualified personnel to fill the existing positions. According to a current study by Bitkom, there is a shortage of 96,000 IT specialists in the German market alone. This means that the gap that was already widening in 2020 has increased again by twelve percent. In order to reduce the shortage of IT specialists in Germany, the gender-specific MINT gap should be closed.
Retraining or upskilling is often essential for women wishing to enter these high-demand fields, whether to supplement existing skills or to enable a complete career change. The Coursera platform highlights the issues that are holding women back from adopting STEM subjects.
The impact of the pandemic has disproportionately affected women. According to a 2020 McKinsey study on the link between the corona pandemic and gender equality, women’s jobs in the United States and India were almost twice as vulnerable to corona as those of men. The report published by the European Commission EU Gender Equality Report 2021 can be summed up as follows: income and social inequalities have increased because the participation of women in the labor market has suffered.
The report shows that the pandemic has hit the female labor market hard in several ways. This is also due to the fact that women are overrepresented in sectors and professions that could not be carried out from the home office. Also in Germany there was a strong imbalance between working women and men during the Corona crisis. Women took on much of the childcare and reduced their working hours. This is shown in a report by the Hans Böckler Foundation from 2020.
If you look at the current number of enrollments on the online learning platform Coursera, however, a positive trend can be observed in terms of the use of online courses by women: in 2021, the proportion of enrollments for the online continuing education by women was higher than before the pandemic.
The proportion of all new female enrollments in Germany increased from 37% in 2019 to 43% in 2021. The number of female enrollments in STEM courses in Germany increased from 29% in 2019 to 33% in 2021. This trend shows that women are increasingly ready for further online education in STEM fields. This applies not only to refreshing the existing level of knowledge, but also to a complete professional reorientation.
“For me, it is important to continue my studies in order to keep up with the most important developments in a rapidly changing technology-driven economy,” says Lena Lickteig, data scientist of the Bertelsmann Future Leaders program. In her current position, she works on a different data science project every few months. It is therefore crucial to learn and update the required skills quickly.
Online training can therefore be a lever to increase diversity in STEM professional fields. The flexibility with which courses can be taken helps learners balance their continuing education with professional tasks and private commitments. This is particularly attractive to women, who often take on care and nurturing tasks and are therefore limited in terms of time and place.
The many e-learning formats available can be easily adapted to the learner’s individual needs. Introductory courses in STEM subjects, such as Automation with Python, allow students to quickly acquire contemporary skills. The “Google IT Support Professional Certificate”, for example, opens the door to first jobs in IT and is recognized by renowned universities such as the University of London and Northeastern University. Both universities offer credits for an online bachelor’s degree to learners who successfully complete the program. This combinability and modularity offers women without IT qualifications the opportunity to learn the right skills.
Online courses should optimally meet the needs of female learners. This would require:
1. More female instructors
Studies show that instructor-led classesInside attract a significantly higher proportion of participants.
2. Course materials that appeal to everyone
Most of the content for the Google IT Support Professional certificate on Coursera was written by women. Personal stories are a special feature: female executives tell how they struggled with impostor syndrome and strive to overcome it. It’s impostor syndrome: people are less confident and don’t feel up to the task – although they often are. Such course content has helped increase the diversity of learners within the program. Already 30% are women, compared to 20% for general IT content on Coursera.
3. Macine Learning methods promote perseverance
With the help of machine learning, a personalized approach to learners is achieved. You will receive individual advice, active support and will be encouraged to take classes even against resistance. For example, provision of review materials, including videos and new reading material, is recommended for struggling learners. This especially helps women to persevere and succeed in their journey.
4. Introduce new features
The Video Highlights feature recently introduced by Coursera allows learners to set checkpoints and add notes to their course videos. This facilitates repetition and improves the learning effect. Striking: With STEM content, women are 36% more likely than men to take notes. Streamlined repetition of course material dramatically increases learner retention.
5. Experiences Provide Information
There are research methods that teachers and researchers can use to find out what kind of teaching is right for whom: Participants are randomly assigned to different variations of a lesson to determine the effect of the teaching materials used (e.g. example videos).
Another example concerns the design of educational materials. Chris Brooks from the University of Michigan investigated whether subtle gender cues could encourage women to approach STEM content. To do this, Brooks superimposed the appearance of male and female employees in the background of some videos and found that learners are more active and post more when their own gender is present. (hk/pm)