STEM careers – the number of females choosing this pathway remains disproportionately low. Why?
According to SEMTA, the skills council for science, engineering and manufacturing technologies, we are facing a shortfall of approximately 80,000 workers in STEM roles in the next two years and meeting the industry needs cannot be met without more females choosing these careers.
It’s not just about meeting the country’s needs – research into average salaries indicates that by not taking these STEM career opportunities, women are missing out on rewarding jobs with good prospects and incomes.
Melanie Windridge is a plasma physicist specialising in fusion energy – a clean, safe energy for the future. She is also an adventurer who believes in bringing exploration and science together and plans to climb Everest in 2016 producing videos and experiment resources on problems that effect mountain climbers.
Before heading off to climb Putha Hiunduli in the Himalayas she spoke to Moving On about her own experience and the importance of encouraging females in their pursuit of STEM related study and careers.
The importance of females in STEM
“When I was at school my physics teacher was what we would call a stereotypical physicist – white, male with a beard and glasses. He told bad jokes and the whole class of schoolgirls groaned (though some of the jokes were quite funny really). In my school it was not just cool to hate physics, it was the norm.
“I liked physics. I liked it enough not to care what everyone else thought, though I was self-conscious in other ways. I liked it enough to know before I took GCSEs that I would study it at university. My stereotypical physics teacher was a good teacher. He was diligent in answering my questions, encouraged me by setting up work experience placements and always supported and boosted me when my confidence ebbed. I was lucky, and I’m now enjoying an inspiring and interesting career in a field I love.
“But why was it that the majority of girls at school hated physics and STEM subjects? Was it the perception of physics being a boys’ subject? As dull and geeky? too difficult? irrelevant? These are all reasons that put girls off, but I believe things are changing – and they need to. As a society we need more girls in STEM (science technology, engineering and maths), particularly studying physics and maths at A-level. We need to tell them that studying physics and maths can lead to interesting, varied and lucrative careers – not dull, geeky jobs but a world of opportunity highly relevant to our lives in the modern age.
“The Your Life campaign aims to showcase some of these STEM-related careers, particularly those of creative entrepreneurs successful in business, all of which studied science and maths. The UK economy needs more young people studying physics and maths at school. Nearly two fifths of employers report difficulties recruiting individuals with sufficient STEM skills. There is a shortfall in technology and engineering skills in the UK and, to plug the gap and fill the jobs, girls need to get more involved too. And why not? If maths and science lead to exciting, wide-ranging and fulfilling careers, why should girls miss out?
“As educators, parents, employers we need to work harder to provide context and relevance in STEM teaching to excite and inspire, show the opportunities available and make workplaces more female-friendly. As more women go into the STEM fields the balance will tip and the stereotypes will change. Females in STEM careers and in physics, engineering and in the boardroom will not feel isolated. Perhaps then there will no longer be schools like mine where all the girls hate physics. I look forward to the day when female scientists and entrepreneurs are visible and celebrated and girls feel empowered to rise to the challenge of going into STEM careers.“
‘Your Life’ is a major three year campaign aimed at increasing the number of young people, especially females who study STEM subjects and pursue STEM careers.
You can find out more about the ‘Your Life’ campaign by visiting: www.yourlife.org.uk