Ahead of National Numeracy Day on 15th May, Key Women in Business has worked with National Numeracy to develop information and tips for our readers.

The campaign aims to help thousands of people improve their numeracy skills and ensure that workforces have the necessary number skills to thrive in an increasingly challenging economic climate.

Every business runs on numbers, and the potential benefits of improved numeracy levels are huge. Not only have one in four UK employers acknowledged that the standards of numeracy amongst young work applicants is not satisfactory, but a recent report highlighted that only 26% of undergraduates have the numeracy levels identified as necessary for daily life and work.

Public attitudes towards maths and numbers are overwhelmingly negative with too many people accepting their current abilities, not realising that they can improve. Interestingly, low confidence with maths and numeracy tends to affect women more often than men.

Together we can ensure everyone has the skills to use numbers well, increasing confidence in women, communities, female-led businesses and consequently the UK economy as a whole.

Poor numeracy skills cost the UK economy £20.2 billion every year and can negatively impact people’s professional and personal opportunities. Those with poor numeracy skills are more than twice as likely to be unemployed and the average cost to individuals with poor numeracy is £460 a year.

How do women feel about numbers?

National Numeracy data shows that even through men and women are equal when it comes to ability, there is a confidence gap between men and women when it comes to numbers.

  • Women are less confident  than men when it comes to numbers. This is true across all ages.
  • 30% of women agree with the statement that “when I think about maths I begin to feel uneasy” compared to only 14% of men.  
  • Confidence with numbers divides males and females more than any other psychological factor National Numeracy measured.  
  • In spite of the confidence gap, men and women were in agreement about effort, and equally likely to agree with statements such as “I don’t give up even when things get tough”. 
Rachel Riley – Photographer Alan Strutt

Rachel Riley’s tips for Key Women in Business

The following tips have been endorsed by mathematician and presenter Rachel Riley, who is an ambassador for National Numeracy Day.

1.     Numeracy is a feminist issue

For hundreds of years we’ve been told that ‘women don’t do maths’ – and that needs to change. Girls match boys in mathematics at GCSE level – but far fewer go on to study maths at A-Level, or progress to careers that use mathematics, science and technology. It’s time to reclaim the numbers.

2.     We all need numeracy

Whether you are shopping, managing your money or running a business, you need to handle numbers and basic maths. Taking control of the numbers is a great boost to self-confidence, and numeracy should be part of every woman’s toolkit. We need this.

3.     We all have a maths brain

We all have the mental machinery needed to succeed with numbers. Research shows that your brain grows new connections as you learn – so even if you had poor experiences of maths at school, you can move forward with numeracy now. We can do this.

4.     Take your time, and do it your way

A lot of people are put off maths by methods that seem arbitrary – ‘just divide this by that’, or ‘put the numbers into this formula’. All of us (including professional mathematicians!) learn and remember best when approaches make sense – so take the time to talk about maths, and figure out why things work. Make sense of the numbers.

5.     Take control of your numeracy

Like anything else, strengthening your numeracy is going to take a little time and effort. Take your first step by checking out your real-life numeracy skills for free, using National Numeracy’s website. The site is easy to use, and will tell you how your numeracy is now and which areas you need to work on. There are also plenty of links to free learning resources. Let’s get started.

Take the National Numeracy Challenge.

Decisions in life are so often based on numerical information; to make the best choices, we need to be confident with numbers. This is why National Numeracy Day, taking place on the 15th May, is encouraging everyone to brush up on their numeracy skills and boost their confidence tackling numbers by taking the free online National Numeracy Challenge. It’s all about the maths you need in daily life and at work to thrive – not algebra or trigonometry!


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