When it comes to women in STEM, sadly, the statistics are still depressing: according to WISE (a campaign to encourage Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) figures from 2014, just 13 percent of UK women work in the fields of science, technology, engineering or math.
When you consider that across A-levels in 2015, only 8.5 percent of those taking a computing exam were female and four out of five in the physics exam were boys, it starts to make sense: issues of representation still exist in the STEM fields. Disappointingly, recent research from Accenture found that 60 percent of 12-year-old girls in the U.K. and Ireland believe STEM subjects are too difficult to learn.
The solution? For starters, we need to encourage future generations of girls to embrace STEM by exposing them to STEM themes and subjects: through books, toys, and programs — like using LEGO bricks to learn how to code.
In the U.K., there are some incredible women and organizations doing their part to get girls experimenting, building, coding, tinkering, and problem-solving their way through schooldays, weekends and summers. Check out the women and social enterprises helping to build the STEM leaders of tomorrow.
Sophie Deen, CEO of Bright Little Labs
Channeling her passion for education and female empowerment into her gender-stereotype busting title book character, Detective Dot, Deen aims to teach children about sustainability, diversity, adventure and, of course, coding and tech, through her books. Even better, Dot is interactive, so kids can read the books as hard copies or download them onto tablets.
Of the inspiration behind Dot, Deen has said:
"A few things kept bothering me. First, our obsession with buying stuff and not knowing how it’s made. How is it that we can buy a cotton T-shirt hand-picked in Uzbekistan, manufactured in China and delivered to our doors in 24 hours – all for less than a fiver? We’ve become disconnected and de-sensitised to the realities behind our consumption. Children even more so. They have an abundance of things and aren’t taught about where they are from.
"Second, children need more positive role models. As a society we talk about needing more women in engineering, science and technology. I want to create toys and stories to reflect that.
"Third, technology can engage children in a really cool way. They spend an ever-increasing amount of time on their phones or tablets - why not make the content educational as well as entertaining?" Hear, hear.
Photo Credit: Sophie Deen
Kris Harrison, Head of Lean Engineering at Selex ES
Winner of the WISE Inspiring Young People Award in 2015, Harrison is doing her part to mentor girls and act as a leading female role model in STEM. She leads the outreach programme for Selex ES's Luton site, working to encourage a diverse range of students from different economic and ethnic backgrounds to feel inspired about engineering. Under her watch, the number of girls on the work experience scheme has rocketed up by 250 percent.
"It’s important to have role models for students. The more women we're getting into the company as graduates and apprentices, the more can go out into schools as well.
"I think if the students can see people who are a bit like them — people to aspire to and relate to — it really helps them to say 'I could do that job'," Harrison told The Telegraph.
Girls Into Stem
Much like girls need positive role models and STEM mentors to encourage them and show that working in STEM is possible, seeing what STEM actually entails is another key component to getting girls of the next generation interested.
Girls Into Stem gets schools involved with the Vex Robotics Competition — an introduction to engineering which helps children see how dynamic and exciting STEM work can be. Research has shown that involvement with the Vex Robotics Competition leads to 92 percent more students wanting to learn more about robotics, 90 percent finding engineering more interesting and 83 percent feeling more tempted to take a university course on engineering.
Aiming to increase the diversity in technology, the organization works with women from non-tech backgrounds by providing free, part-time, in-person coding courses to women aged 18-23. To date, Code First: Girls has taught over 2,200 women to code for free and delivered £1.5 million worth of free education, making it the largest provider of free education coding courses for women in the U.K. and Ireland.
Hosted by universities and companies (from Twitter to The Guardian), Code First: Girls also provides (paid-for) courses for professionals looking to expand their tech skills with the aim of fostering entrepreneurship, building a community of like-minded women, helping them to gain technical skills and demystify the careers available in the tech industries. And turning history students into the next big web developers in the process.
Photo Credit: Code First: Girls
Anne-Marie Imafidon, founder of the Stemettes
Child prodigy turned Stemette (and one of our MAKERS), Anne-Marie Imafidon was awarded a master's in computer science and mathematics from the University of Oxford aged 20. She co-founded social enterprise Stemettes to help inspire the next generation of women to pursue STEM fields, through events like all-female hackathons and app-building workshops.
Stemettes also offers plenty of opportunities to hear — and get inspired by — female STEM professionals, like an engineer who worked on the Shard and an IT expert at Soundcloud.
Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Imafidon
Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Imafidon