What do Lego, the Oscars and the future UK job market have in common? All have underlined the importance of the role that women play in the apparently male domains of maths, science, engineering, tech (STEM). New film, Hidden Figures, was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It tells the true story of three extraordinary African-American women mathematicians - known as "human computers" - who in the 1960s crossed the gender and race divide at NASA and got men into space. Lego, in a departure from Batman and Darth Vader mini-figure standard fare, have this week immortalised the real life characters of the book and film, including Katherine Johnson, as mini figures. Go Lego.
STEM jobs will grow at twice the rate of other areas
What does this have to do with the UK job market? The good news: a recent study by the Social Market Foundation called Jobs for the Future, commissioned by my company EDF Energy, tells of great opportunity in STEM areas for our young people:
- 640,000 jobs will be created in STEM (science, maths, tech, engineering) related careers by 2023
- This is twice the rate of growth of jobs in other areas
The bad news? There is already a shortage of young people with vital engineering skills and the number of women working in these careers remains low: today only 1 in 5 people that work in STEM subjects is female. There will be exciting, varied and rewarding jobs in the future, but if we don't act now there won't be enough people to fill them. More needs to be done to encourage today's 12 and 13-year-old girls to study science subjects at school, and in further and higher education.
STEM jobs are exciting, varied and creative: virtual reality helps girls immerse themselves in the day to day activities of women in STEM roles.
At EDF Energy, we've been doing our bit to help change the perception of STEM subjects amongst young girls as part of our "Pretty Curious" programme.
In January we launched a virtual-reality film to help inspire teen girls to keep their career options open by studying STEM. The film immerses girls in the worlds of three successful women working in some of the most in demand STEM-related industries of the future, as identified in our research with the Social Market Foundation: computing services, construction and architecture. It's key to try to inspire young girls with great role models; you can watch the film here.
"This is, like, we are such innovators"
I, in turn, was inspired at the launch event as school girls from Lewisham "ooh'd" and "ahh'd" their way through the film on their VR headsets. And again, when girls from a school in Ascot entered the EDF Energy Pretty Curious giant inflatable dome to explore the science behind social media and get creative with electrical gadget design. My favourite moment was when one girl - upon creating an ingenious electronic device that could be used to help deaf people know when someone was at the door - turned to her friends and said excitedly "This is, like, we are such innovators".
Some of the most influential scientific and technological inventions of the past have been achieved by women.
From Beatrice Schilling who devised a gadget during World War II that helped British RAF fighters to better chase German planes. To Rosalind Franklin who was responsible for much of the research that led to the understanding of the structure of DNA. Those stories are inspiring and need to be told to girls.
Being curious about the world around us can open up a wealth of exciting opportunities for girls in the future. It IS possible for them to become the Katherine Johnsons of the future.
Whether you buy your younger daughters the new role model Lego mini figures; or whether you take your teenage daughters to see Hidden Figures; or whether you point them in the direction of the 'Jobs of the Future' report when they make their career-defining GCSE or A-Level choices - be part of conveying to our young people that there are great jobs in STEM in the future. And anyone can do STEM.
Sarah Flannigan is the chief information officer at EDF Energy. The Pretty Curious programme aims to inspire teen girls and encourage them to pursue STEM subjects at school and a STEM career later in life.
* Taken from the EDF Energy 'Jobs of the Future' report, undertaken by the Social Market Foundation, which uses new analysis of Government data and examines trends in the growth of science, research, engineering and technology jobs. It shows their respective growth and in which region and industry this growth will take place.
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