Supporting the next generation of women in STEM

 

In a recent Sunday Times Magazine, Lorraine Candy, editor-in-chief of the paper’s Style magazine, noted the vast expanse of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) jobs that the UK struggles to fill each year – 40,000 of them in fact – and that by 2030 there will be a further 1.3 million “high-spec, well paid jobs up for grabs in this fast growing sector”.

The jobs she had in mind were those such as ‘virtual habitat designer,’ ‘autonomous vehicles engineer’ and ‘Internet of Things Data Creative’ – titles many of us aren’t yet familiar with, in fields that are ever-growing. She asked, “how do we prepare our children to choose their subjects for jobs that may not have been invented yet?”

How indeed?! It is a good and fair question, especially when it comes to women. The issue of gender bias in STEM careers has been a hot topic in the news for a long time now. Nationally, the percentage of female STEM graduates is 24 percent according to the WISE campaign, and ibtimes.co.uk suggests that women make up only 14.4 percent of the UK’s STEM workforce.

At Redmaids’ High, as a girls’ school we buck this trend with nearly half of our 2018 Year 13 cohort applying for STEM subjects at university, but in general, women are hugely under-represented, in what is the fastest growing sector in the world.

With this in mind, I would go a step further than Candy’s original question, and ask, “How can parents encourage their daughters to engage with the dynamic – and sometimes confusing – plethora of STEM careers?”

The answer, as with most things in life, is multi-faceted.

Firstly, seek out opportunities to broaden their – and your – understanding of STEM. For example, Futurelearn.com, which partners with a number of international universities, offers a whole host of free, short online courses in everything from Data Mining to Thermodynamics in Energy Engineering.

Secondly, check out apps such as Futurefinder.yourlife.org.uk. These help to match your daughter’s interests and personality to a number of new and emerging STEM based careers.

Thirdly, be aware of other local educational opportunities. For example, at Redmaids’ High we are hosting a free #WomenInSTEM Careers Conference, open to all Year 10 girls across Bristol and beyond. With workshops on everything from broadcast electronics and avionics to cyber security and wearable technology, plus a keynote address from science broadcaster, genetics expert and STEM ambassador, Dr Emily Grossman, girls get the chance to think bravely and imaginatively about their futures.

Whilst there is undoubtedly still a gender gap in STEM subjects in the world beyond Redmaids’ High, I believe that we are well ahead of the game. Between you as parents, and us as educators, we can and will gradually chip away at the imbalance, making it a natural step for the next generation of young women to choose and flourish in STEM.

 

Isabel Tobias, Headmistress, Redmaids’ High School

 

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