Amongst the finalists for the LBG First Women Awards was Eleni Antoniadou, the scientist who developed an artificial trachea that was used in the first successful fully functional artificial organ transplantation, and Hanna Sykulska-Lawrence, an engineer who participated in NASA's Phoenix Mars mission and designed hardware that is now working on the surface of Mars. My nine year old daughter was massively impressed by these achievements, but all too often technology and engineering careers are far from aspirational and we relate more to the social discomfort of the characters in the popular sitcom the Inbetweeners than ground breaking innovators and inventors.
This, I believe, is contributing to today's skills gap in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Yet with Engineering UK reporting this year an anticipated 2.74 million engineering job openings in the UK in the next 5-10 years, we should be challenging our young people on their perceptions and aspirations.
Many organisations, from the UK Government and Lady Geek to FTSE 100 organisations and ScienceGrrl, work tirelessly in different and innovative ways to raise the career aspirations of young girls and open their eyes to what a career in STEM can offer. One organisation I want to call out is Stemettes. They tackle the challenge of stereotyping by creating visible role models, organising panel discussions, hackathons and exhibitions, and promoting social networking, just to name a few of their initiatives.
I am delighted to say we have hosted Stemettes events at Accenture offices recently, bringing a group of 20 would be "Stemettes" - 11-13 year old girls with an interest in understanding more about STEM subjects - into our offices in central London to take them through an afternoon of building a mobile app.
Sitting amongst the group of girls I was inspired by the energy and enthusiasm in the room and the sheer appetite for knowledge. These were young, barely teenage girls, many of whom had never been into central London before, who were just bursting to find out more about technology, about the apps that can be developed and how they can be a part of creating something truly special. What struck me also was the level of confidence some of the girls had. If we could maintain that energy, enthusiasm and confidence and empower them with the right skills and experience, we could develop the next generation of leaders in STEM. We need more initiatives like Stemettes to channel that curiosity and energy and educate young girls about what a career in STEM could hold for them. We also need the corporate sector to play a big role in tackling the STEM skills gap so we can collectively teach the next generation of girls that they can be scientists and mathematicians and invent technologies and also wear heels if they want to.