"Mummy, can I do what Richard does when I grow up?" This question was posed to me by my nine year old daughter. Richard is the husband of one of my dearest friends and he has a very good job in engineering. My response was, "Of course you can."
She loves science. She loved the extra-curricular 'Mad Science' club that she attended recently. She enjoys maths, she likes watching science or technology based programs and is all up for making bicarbonate of soda volcanoes.
She is on a clear trajectory to an interesting, fulfilling, lucrative career in STEM (science technology engineering maths), isn't she? Sadly statistics and experience suggest that she may not be set to become a senior manager at a power station, a research scientist, high up at a cutting edge tech company or a world-leading chemist.
I read a startling statistic recently that said in 2014 less than 13% of the STEM workforce in the UK was female. I've also read that there are tens of thousands of STEM jobs not being filled in the UK. *ONS released figures from the Labour Force Survey in 2016 that show just 8% of engineers are women and just 18% of IT and Telecommunications professional are female.
March 8th is International Women's Day. The theme this year is 'Be Bold for Change'. A key call within this is to encourage more girls in to STEM education and careers. For it to be recognised at this level as an urgent need suggests the lack of it is a big problem. At what point therefore are we losing girls from this field and why?
At school, I achieved a higher grade at science G.C.S.E than I did at English Language and the same as I did in Theatre Studies and English Literature and yet at no point do I recall a teacher or career advisor ever suggesting I carried on science at A level. I was very clear that I wished to study arts and humanities subjects but I wonder why? Was it simply my personal preference, my own likes and passion for the arts? Did STEM subjects seem intimidating or unusual? Or, did it just not occur to me that I had options?
My perception is, that twenty years later, if I were choosing A levels, my experience would be no different. Apparently, there is a drop off in girls choosing STEM subjects at A Level, with a tiny proportion choosing physics compared to their male peers. This is followed through at University with a continuing small percentage choosing to take engineering or physics.
On television, we see Professor Brian Cox, David Attenborough, Steve Backshall and Lord Robert Winston, all fronting high-profile science programs. Whilst Liz Bonin and Alice Roberts have given us some great science on TV, arguably their profile is not as high as their male counterparts. Declan Fahy wrote a book looking at how eight scientists achieved celebrity status, only one of whom profiled was a woman.
On CBBC, 'Eve' is a popular show in my house about a teenage girl who also happens to be a gynoid. She has adventures, she's clever in the way you can be when you have highly developed artificial intelligence but it is Nick Clarke who is the scientist. I could muse on the subject of a male programming and in effect, controlling the female, but I will limit myself to simply pointing out that it is a children's program in which young girls are watching a female robot and a male scientist. 'Dr. Who' has always been a male with a female side-kick. Velma in 'Scooby Doo', Abby in 'NCIS' and Molly Hooper in 'Sherlock' are all cool, clever 'science types' but never the star of the show. Thank goodness for Bernadette Rostenkowski and Amy Farrah Fowler in 'The Big Bang Theory'. Finally clever science girls who get witty lines and steal many a scene from their male co-stars and show you can work in science, earn a good salary and get your guy.
I want my daughter to continue to believe she can have a career in STEM if that is what she wants. I want her to feel she can opt for STEM subjects and that pursuing these subjects at University is an option, if she wants. I want her to see and hear positive female role models in popular culture. I want her to see throughout her education and her working life, women who are good at STEM. Crucially if she chooses a different path, I want it to be because it is her choice and not because she doesn't see another option.
On this International Women's Day, I will be applauding the aims of the 'Be Bold for Change' campaign, particularly the championing of education, because I think it is only in doing this that we will see a truly equal future and opportunity for all of our children. Women make up roughly 50% of the population. Therefore promoting and encouraging females into STEM subjects and careers, seems to be common sense. If women are more fairly represented in STEM careers and the economy improves, then you do the maths - we all benefit.
*Source : Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today
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