Recruiting women into science, technology and engineering programmes and careers faces multifacted challenges. According to the findings of Spanish researchers, the number of women in STEM undergraduate and graduate programmes in Spanish universities is currently declining. The reasons for this decline are complex and related to multiple aspects that combine individual, family, and societal factors. In addition, data show that most men in the workplace are unaware of gender inequalities and do not recognise that gender discrimination occurs, while gender equality and other diversity efforts are undermined by backlashes in society and in organisations.


To discuss these challenges and share effective initiatives to increase women’s participation in STEM, the Society of Women Engineers organised two roundtable discussions in Barcelona in May 2023, bringing together researchers from Spain, Austria and the United States, as well as members of the SWE Research Advisory Council and staff. Milagros Sáinz, Director of GenTIC, and Rachel Palmén, Senior Researcher at GenTIC, were invited to participate as academic experts and contributed to a roundtable focusing on educational pathways and a roundtable addressing issues related to the STEM workplace, respectively.


The Society of Women Engineers has just published an article that provides an overview of the highlights of the discussions and summarises the main conclusions and key takeaways shared by the participants. The article is part of SWE Magazine’s latest issue on the state of women in engineering and has been circulated to over 45,000 of SWE’s members as well as to U.S. Congressional staff, in the hope of stimulating further dialogue and efforts to inform best practices.


The discussions in the two roundtables were structured around three key questions, focusing on either the educational context or the workplace:

  • Perspectives and experiences on the main challenges related to the recruitment of women into science, technology and engineering programmes and occupations.
  • Examples of policies and interventions that have successfully contributed to the retention of women in STEM studies and careers.
  • Thoughts and observations on the inclusion of boys and men in gender equity efforts, as well as strategies for addressing societal and cultural gendered expectations.

Both roundtables discussed complementary aspects and there were areas of overlap and agreement between them. A common conclusion was the need to approach solutions from a holistic perspective, focusing on structural changes rather than trying to ‘fix women’. Another key aspect of the discussions was the importance of efforts to train teachers in gender equality issues – especially at the critical stages of primary and secondary education – to confront gender stereotypes and prevent their reproduction in both educational and family environments. Participants also stressed the need to recognise the complexity of factors that shape students’ identities and experiences, including not only gender but also race/ethnicity, socio-economic background and other axes of inequality. Addressing media representations of STEM subjects, promoting communication about careers in engineering and technology and their role in society, and addressing the challenges faced by women in male-dominated fields were considered crucial.


In the workplace, the importance of institutionalising commitment at all levels to drive cultural change throughout the organisation was highlighted. This includes gender perspective training and sensitisation of leadership boards and selection committees to be able to identify unconscious gender bias. It is also crucial that a gender perspective permeates all internal policies and activities within the organisation. Another key point discussed at both roundtables was the need to involve boys and men in gender equity initiatives, sharing examples of successful university programmes where men took the responsibility for training other men on gender equality issues and for advocacy within the male community.


Finally, with regard to women’s retention in STEM occupations, it was stressed that work-life balance and gender equality policies should not reinforce sexist expectations and gender norms around caregiving tasks. Instead, they should promote a wider societal change to ensure that caregiving and household management responsibilities are evenly shared and no longer fall disproportionately on women.


Read the full article and access the SWE Magazine here.



Perusek, A. [Anne]. (2024). The Barcelona Roundtables. Magazine of the Society of Women Engineers, 70(2).


Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash.


Related links:

Unlocking recruitment and retention of women in STEM: SWE’s roundtable discussions with Milagros Sáinz and Rachel Palmén


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