Today I went back to school for the first time in twenty years. It was a strange, yet nostalgic feeling walking back through those old school gates. The moment I left twenty years ago, I never had any intention of returning to school. School was not a great experience for me, that being said, there was a greater purpose today. There was an extremely valid reason for me returning; I was invited to give a career talk at the school’s STEM club. For me there was no greater excuse. I am an activist for encouraging women into STEM careers. So, how could I possibly say no? It was an honour.
Working in STEM subjects as a female has its own battles. First and foremost, they are male dominated industries. I was the only female on my computing degree, and this situation is echoed by nearly every woman I speak to working in STEM. We are the minority, the outsiders, we know the feeling of being alone, well before we even start our first job.
The time for change is now. I truly believe we are going in the right direction, albeit slowly, but the issues are being identified and exposed. So the reason I went back to school, is a very important one. It is our duty as women in STEM to make young women aware of the opportunities that are available to them. We need to encourage and support them through STEM subjects and to allow them to realise their own potential.
I spoke to some amazing young women today who knew exactly what career they wanted and how they wanted to get there. It was an inspiration, as I remember having no idea at their age what I wanted to do. Interestingly, each one of them had a common denominator, they all had a role model who encouraged their dreams and goals. They also had an awesome teacher who genuinely cares about them, engages with them and encourages them to get involved with extra curricular STEM activities.
But…what about the girls who fall through the cracks? The ones that do not have the confidence to join a STEM club because their friends think it’s geeky?! The ones that do not have role models in their lives that work in STEM or teach them about STEM careers?
According to recent studies by Dell, by 2030,
“85% of jobs that exist haven’t even been invented yet.” (Delltechnologies.com, 2019). (The full report can be read here – Emerging Terchnologies Report, 2019.)
This shows us all how important it is. We do not want young women to be left behind. We need to invest the time now, to secure our future female scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians.
If you are a female working in STEM, I encourage you do to your bit. Get involved with your school alumni, become a STEM ambassador or join your local STEM hub. Be a role model for young women, give them someone who they can aspire to be like and give them an opportunity to ask you questions about how you got to where you are today. It’s so important!