Diverse role models can empower women and girls in STEM
By Stemazing founder Alexandra Knight
"STEM is so broad and will give you endless opportunities to follow your passions and dreams."
STEM is the combination of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. People who work in STEM are often the hidden heroes of humanity.
Without these everyday heroes we'd still be living in the dark ages. STEM superheroes save lives, protect the planet, and create future possibilities. They literally keep society functioning and moving forward and yet most of the population is unaware of the vital work people in STEM do.
We need more visible role models
Research by Engineering UK showed that a whopping 73% of 11–14-year-olds don’t know what engineers do, 69% of parents don’t know what engineers do, and 42% of teachers don’t feel confident giving engineering career advice. Is it any wonder then that there isn't enough people choosing to pursue STEM and go into STEM careers, like engineering?
The STEM skills shortage is estimated to cost employers in the UK £1.5bn a year . This cost to the economy is huge, but what will the cost to humanity be in the future if the gap is not plugged?
Role models inform, influence and inspire the decisions people make about their life and career. The lack of visible diverse STEM role models who represent the breadth of career opportunities in STEM is a key contributor to the skills shortage problem.
To plug the STEM skills gap, the net must be widened. This requires more diverse role models to inspire and influence a wider pool of talent.
Diversity is the difference
Evolving through the 4th Industrial Revolution and beyond, the need for innovation in STEM will continue to increase at pace.
Innovation in STEM is key to solving some of the biggest Global challenges. A key ingredient for innovation is diversity, but a well-known challenge in STEM is the lack of diversity, which is another reason diverse STEM role models are so important.
Black and ethnic minority workers make up only 12% of the UK STEM workforce and only 24% are women, when you look at engineering alone it’s much worse, with only 14% women in engineering. This is not enough.
Research shows that children aged 3–5-years- old already show less support for counter- stereotypical STEM career choices, e.g. a girl who wanted to be an engineer.
This is a major problem for STEM Industries as these biases are established so young and then mostly reinforced over time, but something can be done about it.
Everyone benefits from diverse role models
Stemazing founder Alexandra Knight
Counter-stereotypical role models have a positive influence on minorities, but what about the majorities? Do they lose out? No.
Research shows that girls who only interact with male STEM educators reinforce their negative stereotype that they don’t belong in STEM. The surprising evidence is that boys who interact with female STEM educators don’t think they are any less able or respected but they have a more equitable view of girls and women in STEM so their experience is also positive. Win, win!
This is not only crucially important for diversity but also a key piece of the inclusion puzzle. In addition to this, a study presented in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology showed that early childhood is a key window in which educational interventions aimed at fostering female engagement with STEM may have greater impact. So diverse role models benefit everyone, and the younger this engagement happens the better.
The Stemazing mission
Stemazing is dedicated to inspiration and inclusion in STEM. The group is very passionate about the importance of diverse visible role models. One of its initiatives, the Stemazing Inspiration Academy, empowers women in STEM to shine as visible role models and inspire Primary children through fun, interactive STEM sessions.
The diverse women in STEM participants take part in a four-month programme of training and workshops to build their confidence on camera and grow their STEM delivery toolbox.
These newly empowered role models then deliver a six-week programme of LIVE online sessions which are all hands-on simple STEM activities and experiments designed to promote curiosity, creativity and courage. Places for primary schools are prioritised by percentage of families on free- school-meals to ensure the programme reaches the highest need areas.
In its first round, 45 women in STEM and 1,600 children took part with fantastic feedback. The launch of the second round received an incredible response from women and schools. 60 women have been accepted, enabling an even bigger impact - and thanks to its sponsors it will be able to reach even more children.
Diverse people are the raw ingredients. Diversity is the recipe for success
However, this is only part of the long-term solution. Recruiting more diverse people into STEM does not bring the potential benefits unless those diverse perspectives can thrive. This is the real recipe for success – inclusive cultures with psychologically safe working environments.
There is a long way to go, but with more awareness of what good looks like and where the pain-points are – maybe then a STEM culture will be cultivated that enables and empowers everyone to thrive and bring their whole self to work. Not only representing the diversity in the communities they serve but enabling real innovation that will improve the future of humanity for everyone.
Empowering and advancing women in STEM
Thanks to its sponsorship, the Stemazing Inspiration Academy is provided free of charge to participating women and schools. For more information about participating and how you to support its mission of inspiration and inclusion in STEM, check out the Stemazing Inspiration Acadamy.
Stemazing's mission is to empower women in STEM to shine and inspire young people to become the next generation of innovators and problem-solvers.
Stemazing is working to create a movement and make a difference through STEM.
Founder and CEO Alexandra Knight is an award-winning engineer, presenter and diversity advocate. She is a Chartered Engineer, Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, on the Board of the Women's Engineering Society, a Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor at Brunel University and a STEM Ambassador. She worked in engineering industry for over 15 years before focussing full time on Stemazing.