Princess Anne has said Covid-19 has caused a ‘backwards slide’ for women when it comes to participation in the Stem sector.
She told an awards event that while the proportion of women among traditionally male-dominated industries utilising science, technology, engineering and maths — was increasing, progress was too slow.
At the Women in Science and Engineering (Wise) Covid Unsung Hero awards, held at Windsor Castle on 23 February, which celebrates the achievements of women over the past two years, the Princess Royal highlighted how the pandemic has slowed down diversification.
She said: “Such upheavals [as Covid] can lead to a backwards slide, with organisations focused on keeping their businesses afloat rather than the equally important but perhaps less pressing work of maintaining a diverse and inclusive workforce.”
“Maintaining this push is even more important in the wake of the pandemic,” she added.
The 71-year-old is a patron of Wise and said that while female participation had doubled in the last 20 years, it was “still much lower than we would like.”
Less than a quarter of the Stem workforce is made up of women in the UK (24%). Wise figures suggest that the proportion of tech roles filled by women has flatlined at 16% since 2009. However, by 2019 there were 50,000 women in engineering professional roles – almost double the number in 2009.
Princess Anne acknowledged it was not easy to entice women into Stem-related roles but it was “essential” to celebrate those pushing the envelope in their respective fields.
“We therefore need to double our efforts around raising the profile of impressive women in Stem and ensure that diversity and inclusion remains high on the agenda for businesses across all Stem sectors.”
She went on to announce six winners of the Wise Covid Unsung Hero awards in recognition of the women who helped to improve lives and communities during the pandemic in the categories of tech innovation, education, data solution, diversity and inclusion, community engagement, and pandemic response.
Among the winners was Ming Tang, an interim chief data and analytics officer at NHS England and NHS Improvement who created the Covid Data Store, which used AI to ensure that critical care staff, PPE and medications were being placed in the right locations at the right time.
Other winners included Dr Amy Thomas of the University of Bristol who designed and validated a saliva spit test after identifying early into the pandemic that the widely used swab test was unsuitable for children.
Susan McDonald, energy lead at Deloitte won the Community Champion award for her work ensuring that at-home Covid testing was available to everyone, including spearheading accessibility for ethnic minority groups, blind and partially sighted people, and those shielding or self-isolating.
Tolulope Oke, global diversity, equity and inclusion customer engagement leader at Amazon Web Services, won the Inclusion and Diversity award for her work relaunching Amazon’s Europe, Middle East and Asia inclusion ambassador programme, creating a network of over 1,400 diversity and inclusion ambassadors within 28 countries to provide additional support during the pandemic.