Three Swedish-funded initiatives from the United Nations Development Programme aim to attract more women into technical professions – and inspire them to build careers in STEM specialties
Fostering gender equality: How we help women succeed in STEM
April 27, 2023
Ukraine has made a lot of progress in recent years in promoting gender equality and expanding women's rights and opportunities. Its parliament has ratified the Istanbul Convention, and the legislature itself has more women members than ever before. But there’s still some way to go before we can say that women are fully participating in society, with all obstacles to this having been cleared.
A number of areas in the country are traditionally dominated by men – and remain so. For example, only 28% of FOPs (individual entrepreneurships) in the IT field in 2023 were registered by women, according to DOU data. Still, this share has increased slightly in the last year – it was 27% in 2022.
Before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, women made up almost half of Ukraine's workforce. At the same time, they occupied top positions in only 27% of the enterprises that Vox Ukraine analysed, using data from the State Statistics Service of Ukraine. Moreover, most of the businesses where women were in charge were enterprises in the field of education, trade, tourism, and beauty.
There are lots of reasons why women reached the top in these spheres, and not, say, in heavy industry. One of them is that there are lingering stereotypes that determine which profession and career women choose when they are young.
In 2020, the UN Peacebuilding and Recovery Programme surveyed students at schools and vocational education institutions and found that although prejudices had decreased among young people about which professions are “suitable” for men and women, 60% of the respondents still believed that professions can be divided along the lines of gender, and a woman’s purpose is to give birth to children.
It takes courage and sufficient self-confidence for women to resist such gender stereotypes in society and master a profession that is considered “masculine,” the respondents in the study told researchers.
Even girls who are good at mathematical subjects at school often hesitate to go to universities to pursue a technical education. Without role models, support, and mentors, it is difficult for them to venture into a male-dominated field.
Specialized programmes from the government or international partners can help them gain confidence and the strength, so they can choose the professional path they want despite societal pressures or opinions. Over the last year, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) implemented three Swedish-funded initiatives aimed at increasing the share of women in STEM professions (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
Boosting the representation of women and girls in STEM will encourage greater technological progress and economic development in Ukraine. And everyone will benefit from it – both women and men.
Promoting the first professional steps of young specialists
In order to support and encourage women to study technical specialties, as well as help the professional development of women students or recent graduates of these professions, a pilot internship programme for young women in STEM was launched at the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine at the end of last year.
Seven finalists were selected from among more than 200 applicants, with each intern competing with 29 other people for a place. They all study a range of STEM majors: IT, business analytics, software engineering, physics and astronomy, systems analysis, and computer science.
For two months, the young women had the opportunity to work together with Ukraine's Ministry of Digital Transformation team on projects in the field of state digitalization – and the results of their work were presented at the closing ceremony of the pilot internship programme in February 2023. In addition, educational webinars were also organized so that the programme gave them not only technical knowledge and experience, but helped them develop leadership qualities and other soft skills.
The young women all said an inclination to STEM professions did not depend on gender or sex, but a person's professional skills. “Professionals have no gender. It doesn't matter if a man or a woman works in a certain field, anyone can understand it if they want to,” says one of the interns, Alina Voronina.
Initiatives like internships help young women develop the skills they need to advance in technical professions, adds Daria Reshetuha, a programme graduate. “Internships – scholarships that are created to support girls – all of this synergy of support helps us to grow better in the (STEM) field and achieve success,” she says.
Giving a career boost to future women leaders
With more than 75% of all civil servants in the country being women, Ukraine’s civil service has traditionally been women-dominated – but not at the top of the career ladder: In 2020, they held only 33% of the highest civil service positions (category A), UN Women reports.
We think one of the reasons for this is women's lack of self-confidence, a lack of necessary “soft” skills and fear of venturing into career building. So we launched a women's leadership programme at the end of last year to help women make new career achievements.
We started with specialists involved in the digitization of public services in central government bodies. Sixteen specialists from the Ministry of Digital Transformation, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, the State Tax Service, the National Health Service and state enterprises were invited to participate in the programme.
During the programme, several days of training were held on leadership and people management, the basics of project management and solving challenges, the development of emotional intelligence and stress resistance, and the analysis of practical cases. A study visit to the UK is also planned – to study foreign experience.
Helping those who lost their jobs during the war find a new profession
The humanitarian crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 has had a disproportionately negative impact on women and girls, from an increase in gender-based violence to a heavier burden of childcare and household responsibilities. Added to that, the economic burden on women to support families has increased, as many men have been mobilized or lost their jobs.
These negative effects were particularly acute for displaced women, who constituted the majority of internally displaced persons. An absolute majority of them, at the height of displacement, reported that they had lost their income. Under such conditions, a significant proportion of forcibly displaced women were interested in vocational training in order to find new livelihood opportunities, a study conducted in May 2022 showed.
To help address this problem, just three weeks after the start of full-scale war the Projector Institute, an online training institute for careers in the creative and IT industries, launched the Projector Creative & Tech Foundation. The goal of the initiative was to train 5,000 internally displaced women in new creative and technological professions.
UNDP, with financial assistance from the Swedish government, also supported the foundation's initiative. Out of 40 graduates of the UI/UX Design and graphic design courses, 20 have already managed to take their first steps in mastering a new profession.
With the same goal, in the summer of 2022, the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, together with the Binance blockchain ecosystem and the Lviv IT cluster, launched the national IT Generation project. Its goal was to give Ukrainians the opportunity to learn a new profession free of charge and start a career in the IT field. The project was also implemented with the support of the UN Development Programme in Ukraine, with the financial support of Sweden and the USAID Programme “Competitive Economy of Ukraine.”
At the first stage of the project, 2,200 Ukrainian men and women received an opportunity to get a free education – almost two times more than originally planned. The majority of the students (54%) were women.
One of them was Anna Podolian, who worked as an English teacher, but lost her job because of the war. She was interested in the field of IT even before the war, because of its possibilities for personal development and remote working. Then, having learned about the project through the Internet, she immediately applied to take part. Training was quite difficult due to regular power outages and constant shelling. However, these difficulties only encouraged her to keep going. To find a new job, she sent about 50 resumes to companies – and as a result got the position of Junior QA at U.S. fintech company Shift Markets.
These are only a few such initiatives, but the real stories here prove that programmes supporting women do work: They inspire them, and give them the skills, knowledge and support they need to realize their potential.
After all, gender equality is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, so achieving it and empowering all women and girls is our shared goal: Ukraine’s international partners, government, communities, parents, men and young women themselves want to build an equal and just society in which everyone can make a decent living.
Olha Matiahina, PR and Communications Associate, DIA Support project, UNDP Ukraine
Oksana Grechko, Digitalisation Policy Specialist, DIA Support project, UNDP Ukraine
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