International Day of Women and Girls in Science is a global movement implemented by UNESCO and UN Women and their partners, aims to promote equal access for women and girls in science and technology and participation in STEM subjects. The purpose of this day is to celebrate the accomplishments of women and girls in STEM but also to highlight the need for sustained efforts to create gender equality.
Whilst many strides have been made in education and the workplace to encourage representation, there remains a gender disparity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines, where women graduating in core STEM subjects has stalled at 26% and currently only a quarter of the UK’s workforce are represented by women.
Positive action is required to balance opportunities for women to fully succeed in their careers, starting with early years education.
We spoke to 2 senior managers in our organisation: Nicki Aitken, Microsoft Partner Manager and Branka Subotic, Principal Data Science Consultant - both passionate and active members of our Women in Digital group - for their practical advice on ways we can work together to help address the disparity and stamp out workplace bias.
Success in STEM comes from education and they both agree encouragement is the responsibility of home, school, and businesses to help close the gap for the most in-demand skillset in the British workforce today.
Prevent gender stereotyping
The way girls and boys should think, look and behave, starts with the language they hear, the images they see, and the expectations placed on them. Children are influenced at a young age by their family and friends, so encouraging engagement with a wide range of stimuli, reading material, media programming and (above all) other children of different genders and backgrounds will set them up well.
Making STEM ‘fun’
Encouraging younger girls to choose a STEM subject at an early age is so important to addressing gender disparity. Starting with early years education, it’s important to shine a light on the career opportunities available to those with STEM qualifications, increase investment in training for women to fill the corporate need, and close the STEM skills gap once and for all.
Partnering with schools
Tech leaders have a role to play in promoting a range of career paths and prospects for girls.
Branka suggests that education in the ‘art of the possible’ would really help inspire students develop their interest in topics like:
How to become an app developer
How to be a special effects expert on the next action blockbuster
The potential careers in the gaming industry
Designing the next generation air traffic control system
How about designing a vehicle to send people to Mars?
What if you applied AI to dance choreography?
Would you like to design and 3D print body parts for medical needs and to help critically ill patients?
Nicki reflects on her own involvement and the positive impact it can have on children. “A few years ago, I supported a local school to raise funds to build a science lab, known as The Discovery Hub. The Hub gave children within the school - and other schools in the area - direct and easy access to science and technology”.
Adapting the curriculum
Helping schools to broaden their curriculum is a positive way to help children think about the opportunities of a career in technology. Part of our own community outreach included supporting a girls’ school to get the analytical programming language, R, on their curriculum and begin teaching data science at school. Coding, now part of the curriculum addressed in a new venture by the new Institute for Coding and fully supported by business including Microsoft, will support the co-development of digital skills, which have been previously under supported.
These are just some of the positive ways we can all help influence and support participation in STEM. The full impact of initiatives like International Day of Women and Girls in Science may take some years to be felt, but together we can encourage growing numbers of women in science and engineering and help them be successful in their careers.