How I spent International Women’s Day

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I celebrated International Women’s Day surrounded by many young women, having been invited to a women in STEM lunch at Rendcomb College, Cirencester. I, alongside other women working in STEM, spent time, over lunch, with female  students from the college. The girls aged approx 14-18 were gracious, intelligent, opinionated and open to listening to others. Just the kind of traits that are vital in the STEM industries and yet, unfortunately, are still somewhat lacking.

Does International Women’s Day matter?

Gender is a hot topic in STEM, women make up just 14.4% of the UK STEM workforce and only 11% of SET (Science Engineering and Technology managers), according to a WISE report . There is generally an increase in women going into STEM careers year on year and yet the numbers still remain low.

I talked to the young women at Rendcomb College to find out more. I told them about my journey to becoming a woman in a managerial position in STEM, and asked them a number of questions about their aspirations. The majority of them didn’t feel that they were excluded from a STEM career because they were a girl and they felt hopeful that, if they were to enter STEM careers in ten years time, then they would enter a gender neutral environment. Something that I would have said when I was their age, unfortunately that didn’t come to fruition in my time. They spoke articulately about the need for a broad range of skill sets in many industries and how gender neutrality would help that to happen, but they also said that they would never want to feel that they had been hired just because they were a woman because it fills some quota.

Every one of the girls felt the pressure of choosing GCSEs, A-levels and University courses because they are having to make choices about a future that they can’t yet see or understand. Of course this is a predicament that follows us all through life, we can’t be everything and we can’t know the future. But I can remember feeling the same way as them when I was choosing my GCSEs and A-levels,  and I still have a twinge of wonder about how it could have been so different. The truth is that multidisciplinary approaches are inherently more feminine and becoming more vital in a wide range of STEM jobs. I think that a woman (and man) stands in good stead if they can nurture both creative and analytical skill sets, whether this be through subject choices, extra-curricula activities, surrounding themselves with a broad range of people or being self aware enough to make sure that they take varied approaches to their work and life challenges.

Inspiring women

I asked the girls:

Which women inspire you?

Some spoke of older students from the college or family, however they all felt that there weren’t many women for them to pick from in the media, only actors, musicians and occasionally politicians, who tended to be seen in a negative light as much as a positive one. We need to find a way to raise the profile of women in a fun and accessible way for young people. We need to find a way to celebrate women, without the inevitable tearing them down when they become too powerful. We need a broad range of role models for all young people. If only lunches like the one that was hosted by Rendcomb College could be accessible to all young people. If any schools would like me or members of my team to come and meet their students then we would be very happy to arrange something.

I do question whether the science arena, as it currently is, can ever attract a full gender balance, or if there is always going to be a bias, because the scientific industries are very masculine, due to the fact that women were not involved in creating the scientific systems in academia or industry. What should we be  telling the young women who show aptitude and passion for science? Is it a welcoming world for women? The truth is that it depends on the woman and depends on the institution.

As a woman in science or a student thinking about going on a career journey that involves science, ask yourself…..

What do you want from it?

……and then take the leap, be brave, just because there are less women role models in STEM that doesn’t mean you can’t become a future role model yourself or do your bit to change the world. Just make sure that you don’t loose sight of yourself and your passion in the process.

We are working hard at Nano Simbox to build gender neutrality into the tool (and, no, that isn’t about making it pink –  although I do love pink) so that when girls encounter science through the Nano Simbox it never occurs to them to question whether “people like them” work in science. They just enjoy being curious and exploring their world – in our case the nanoscopic world of atoms and molecules.

My journey

I love my job as managing director at Interactive Scientific, I get to be fascinated by science and the power it has to change the world. I get to question the way we talk about science. I have the opportunity to stand up and give presentations, do art and design, create experiences and performances and work with an energetic and ambitious team. I am able to spend time on strategy, marketing, business development and growth. I spend time in schools, with teachers and other businesses who are equally passionate about creating the future of science and education.  I would never have been able to pursue the path that I am on without my knowledge, qualifications and curiosity about the world that I have developed by taking a STEM degree (chemistry in my case). I wouldn’t have been able to do my job if I hadn’t spent time working in technology businesses, innovation funding and policy. I wouldn’t be able to do my job if I hadn’t been trained as an actor and worked in theatre. I also would never have been able to do my job if I hadn’t fully opened up to all the traits that come from me being a woman.

Get in touch

Are you a woman in science? Do you hope to be? I would love to hear your views. Tweet us at @nanosimbox or @becky_sage.

Useful links

There are a few UK based organisations and resources I would recommend if you want to read more:

WISE people like me resource pack

Science Grrl

STEMettes

This is by no means exhaustive and there are loads of amazing women in STEM doing their bit.

If you are ever looking for someone to champion women following a STEM career please get in touch.

Becky