The shortage of women working in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) careers in the UK is an issue that has raised a lot of attention in recent years. Yet despite some progress, the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics reveal that only one in seven people currently working in STEM industries are female.
This is an issue that is close to my heart, and since I started working in science communication, I've become more aware of the factors that might contribute to this imbalance. As complex as this issue is, research shows that young girls do enjoy studying STEM subjects at school and show great aptitude and enthusiasm in all areas. However, at some point they become disengaged with STEM, with many disregarding engineering as a future career path by the time they are 16.
With the UK currently having the lowest percentage of women working in STEM careers in Europe this urgently needs to change. Not only are girls missing out on a whole host of exciting and fulfilling careers, but the shortfall of skilled STEM graduates in Britain could have important economic repercussions in years to come.
A big part of the solution is recognising how girls can be better supported and encouraged in STEM subjects. It's also important that young women are inspired to find a career that they are truly impassioned about and to not be afraid to experiment with different options until they find a job that they love.
When I was at school I loved Chemistry and Biology. I was very lucky that I went to a school that encouraged its students to excel in the subjects they were good at, and was never made to feel that certain subjects or career paths were 'just for boys.' It was a very supportive environment and I went on to study Biochemistry at University. I was also keen to try out any new opportunities that presented themselves, which is why I worked in television for a while before going back to school to study for my Masters in Wild Animal Biology. I then got the chance to combine my passion for science with a new found love for programme making. Because of my own experiences in science and science communication, I am a big advocate for the many rewarding and fulfilling STEM careers out there.
That's why I'm working with EDF Energy on the #PrettyCurious programme, to help reignite girls' curiosity about the world around them, and support their natural enthusiasm for STEM subjects. The campaign aims to challenge gender stereotypes and highlight certain attributes, such as being curious and creative, that some teens might not recognise as being key to STEM careers.
It's curiosity that makes me a scientist. I'm always asking questions and I love to understand living systems right down to the atoms and equations they're based on. Science isn't a subject; it's a means to explain the whole world around you. There is no area of our lives that isn't affected by science.
The fact is there is a STEM subject out there for everyone, whether you're analytical or more creative, like to work as a team or have leadership qualities. There are countless fascinating and exciting career paths that young people can follow with a STEM qualification - from designing the next game-changing smartphone app to communicating the latest medical breakthrough, from exploring the world's deepest oceans to being part of the team that lands a spacecraft on another planet - and everything in between.
It's important to support today's young people, nurturing their curiosity and encouraging them to pursue their passion and find the right fit out of the diverse range of STEM subjects available to them, so that in the future they can embark on fulfilling careers and help shape the world around them.