The importance of women working in STEM has never been greater, a senior industry leader said yesterday at the annual conference of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA).
Carl Ennis, UK CEO of Siemens, told his audience in Manchester that “we need diversity of thought more than ever” in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“We cannot be allowed to open our doors to 50% of the population having guided them through the school system, only to leave them disenfranchised and browbeaten at the workplace they’re presented with,” he said.
“At the moment there is a disproportionate rate at which women leave a STEM career within the first five years. Girls who have been encouraged, supported and nurtured through school are sent into a world of work that, in some instances, is the binary opposite of what they’d hoped for. In STEM subjects, this can mean male overalls, male safety shoes, male goggles and male workstations.”
The GSA was a founder partner of Siemens’ SeeMe (née See Women) programme in 2016, an initiative designed to support teacher training resources, challenge stereotypes, and spotlight female role models within STEM industries.
GSA schools host the events and invite girls from neighbouring state schools to attend. More than 100 have taken place to date, attended by 4,000 children.
At the moment there is a disproportionate rate at which women leave a STEM career within the first five years – Carl Ennis, Siemens
“As a STEM graduate myself, I’m incredibly proud of our partnership with Siemens,” said Donna Stevens, chief executive of the GSA. “It’s not acceptable in 2021 that many girls still feel they are less able to pursue the full spectrum of work that men have always enjoyed because of their gender.
“Through this partnership, we offer insights, practical tools, and the best thinking to both our pupils and teachers. We will always champion the best opportunities for girls, nationally and internationally.”
Stevens’ words were echoed by Ennis in his conference speech. “The GSA partnership is having a real impact on girls’ perceptions of working in science and engineering, with 70% of students attending the SeeMe shows feeling inspired to find out more about a career in STEM, 65% imagining themselves in a STEM career, and 65% thinking they knew more about the range of different careers available,” he said.
There is, however, a long way to go. “When you ask a student what a scientist or an engineer looks like, they’ll more often than not draw a male stick person with a lab coat on, or fixing your boiler,” he added.
“There is an issue with getting girls excited by engineering subjects at school and a real lack of girls taking STEM subjects. If we lose them in their early life choices, then they will never be our technical experts, or leaders of the future. Role models can be inspirational, enhance a sense of belonging and identity in STEM fields, and can reduce self-stereotyping.
“The UK needs 203,000 people each year with Level 3+ engineering skills to meet demand. It is vital our education programme continues to highlight role models from a diverse variety of identities and backgrounds so that young people see and recognise people like themselves in exciting and challenging careers. It’s hard to see yourself as an engineer or senior leader if most of your potential role models are not like you.”
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