Happy International Women’s Day! Really, I think it’s time to admit that I’m completely running a day behind, but I’m going to embrace that and move on. Keeping up with daily posts among school work and a lot of exciting projects has been a super big strain, which comes straight after finishing mocks when everyone else has been relaxing! None the less, I always believe in working hard for the things you care about.
Today, I wanted to touch on and expand on an interview I did for Empiric following speaking on a panel for the Women In Tech UK Chapter Launch looking into why women choose not to pursue STEM careers and what we can do about it. Below are 3 of the questions I was asked, refined and amended, as well as some recommendations I have for increasing gender diversity in the STEM space. I’ve also added in some resources I think you should check out if you want to do more. I think it’s important to also remember that women should feel comfortable going into any sector they choose, meaning that although we want to encourage them into STEM careers, they shouldn’t feel pressured to choose either way.
1. Was there anything in particular that motivated you to choose STEM subjects?
For me, STEM has always satisficed by intense curiosity, helping me to understand more about the fundamental building blocks of how this world works. I’ve also always loved the satisfaction that comes with discovering new concepts and then applying them to problems I never thought I’d be able to solve, which is always something we’re encouraged to do in subjects like maths. The diversity within STEM is also particularly appealing, there is always so much to learn and in so many different ways; in Computer Science, we cover a huge spectrum of topics ranging from understanding the fundamental logic and computational thinking in a computer’s hardware, right to coding programs or learning about the ethical implications of technology. That diversity is something I love. Finally, I guess there is a certain appeal to subjects which open up so many possibilities. You can go anywhere with STEM subjects and that can only ever be a positive thing.
2. What do you think some of the reasons are for young girls in school not choosing STEM subjects?
I think the answer to this lies in how we approach the subject. When I first started senior school, we built Pacman in scratch in year 7, only to revert back to learning how to use excel in year 8 (and I was in a school which probably did a lot more than other schools). Post GCSE, I spoke to my friends about why they decided not to take it as a subject, and was surprised to hear that a lot of them regretted not taking it – citing its importance in the future and for careers as reasons. It seemed like they weren’t fully aware of what GCSE Computer Science actually involved, which is why it’s so important that we’re making computer science fun and exciting, especially for girls who are less likely to have been involved at a younger age. For subjects like Maths and Science, I think we sometimes make it worse for ourselves; these subjects often risk coming across as boring and many people truly only study them because they are “building blocks for our future” which although is not wrong, does not incentivise many people to study them. How about we instead show people how exciting it is to study STEM and incite a passion for these subjects in young people?
3. If you were to carry out your career in tech, how you feel about the industry being perceived as a male-orientated sector?
I’ve always felt that it takes a certain set of characteristics to be able to brave the weather of a male-oriented sector. Despite this, no woman should be put off joining an industry with higher male numbers than female. Looking at it objectively, I don’t think it’s ever been a concern for me because I think I have a strong voice and don’t lack confidence in a room of men, though having grown up in a nurtured environment and an all-girls school, my biggest worry would be whether I can maintain that in ‘the real world’. Also, I personally thrive in an environment where I feel like I’m proving people wrong. However it’s important that everyone feels valued and that they hold an equal voice in any room – not just in the tech space. In any male-led industry, I’d need to know that I can bring my opinions forward without fear of judgement and in the knowledge that my views are respected and taken on board no matter the sex, race, cultural background, and so on.
Where can we go from here?
- The type of toys we give children
- One of the key reasons I think we start to notice a difference so young comes from the disparity in toys we give boys and girls. Though I loved my kitchen set, my life-size babies who cried or my glitter glue collection, I know that young me also thrived off of building lego, creating my own world in my playmobile and figuring out how to make slime in science kits. Cognitively educational tools are a great way to stimulate learning at a young age, and get kids excited about subjects long before they encounter them on a serious level at school. Try the exploding coca cola experiment, using scratch to make cool projects or reading a new book each week.
- The Argument for single-sex schooling
- Whilst speaking on the Women in Tech Panel I mentioned earlier, one woman raised the thought of whether it was the type of school that a girl went to that affected her self-confidence and willingness to explore STEM as a career. I’m not sure I know the definite answer to this, but I do know that I have greatly benefited from being in a single-sex school all my life. Originally, I was put in all-girls school because I was (and still am) extremely shy. I’ve definitely felt my confidence grow over the years, and I do feel as though being in an environment where we are all encouraged to be our best selves despite boundaries has pushed me to achieve more in whatever field I want. There have been multiple studies on whether mixed or single gender schools are better, but I wouldn’t hesitate in thinking that a girls school can help foster creativity, encourage confidence and develop knowledge beyond borders. And there are plenty of both paid and free single-sex schooling options if it’s something you think might be worth trying. There’s nothing to say you can’t switch back if it doesn’t work for you.
- Discourage unhelpful perfectionism
- I think that most of us, but young girls especially, tend to fall into this trap of being afraid of failure, and making mistakes. It is well known that men can tend to apply for jobs underqualified, whereas a woman can choose not to even when overqualified. Although I have no real idea, my best guess is that some of this unhelpful perfectionism comes from the long-standing need for women to work harder to prove themselves as equal to men, although there are definitely other factors at play such as a fear of making mistakes, being made to look dumb, and so on.
And though it is now Friday, and this post is pushing 1300 words, don’t forget to tune back in tomorrow to conclude a week of posts for International Women’s Day. I hope you’re all having a brilliant day celebrating!
-Jo who blogs xx