Woman of Outstanding Achievement
13 May 2011
Cary Marsh is one of the 2011 UKRC Women of Outstanding Achievement. She has set up her own technology business and is a passionate supporter of the WISE Campaign, led by the UKRC.
My school didn't allow girls to choose three sciences at GCSE as it was deemed too challenging .The boys across the road could. Luckily for me I had an extremely supportive mother who marched up to the nuns in charge and told them that I would be taking three sciences. In hindsight I realise how lucky I was. My mother was a successful business woman and a fantastic role model.
I took physics, maths and biology at A-level. I came top of the year in physics and my grade A at Physics A-level is still one of my greatest achievements to date!
I went on to study Engineering at Nottingham University, a degree choice that I know armed me with all the skills to start my own technology business - www.mydeo.com which I set up while on maternity with my first son in 2003. I'm now mum to three boys aged 8, 6 and 1. I doubt whether they will come up against barriers when choosing their educational options, and I hope that girls these days won't either. But my concern is that the statistics show that there are still not enough girls making science and techology higher educational choices.
As a technology entrepreneur I often find myself at conferences where I am one of only a handful of women among hundreds (theres never a queue for the ladies at a technology conference!). But when will this change? How do we somehow increase the talent pool of women in the science, technology and engineering sectors? I believe we must do this, not just because I know these are great industries to be in, but because the UK economy will suffer if this underrepresentation of women in these sectors continues.
In India, China and Japan there is far stronger focus on science and technology in education across both sexes. We've only got to look to at these burgeoning economies where there is a stronger cultural science and technology focus and corresponding better gender representation to realise something will need to change here in the UK if we want to remain competitive on the global stage.
We must work to dispel the bad image STEM careers (science, tehcnology, engineering, maths) still have (geeks, nerds, white coats, hard hats) that put young girls off choosing science and tech at GCSE, A-level and above. We must create role models and mentors who girls will aspire to be like. Right now its usually a model, a pop star, an actress - why not a science or technology entrepreneur?
Everyone of us can think of a person we wanted to be like when we were young. For me it was Martha Lane Fox running a dot com tech startup, getting rich and being on the cover of magazines. How cool was that!
One of the wonderful things about the technology sector I work in is that everyone is judged on their own merits without a thought given to gender, race or age. This is nothing like 'City' culture and Im proud to be part of it! Its a wonderful sector to work in and if more younger girls knew that we'd eventually see more women in technology jobs, contributing to our economy and influencing the next generation.
25 years after my run-in with the nuns, I was extremely honoured to be named winner of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Business and Industry) category at the 2011 Women of Oustanding Achievement Awards ceremony held at the Academy of Engineering. Lord Willis of Knaresborough, in his speech as chair of the judges, talked of how the winners should be celebrated and how more role models were needed to influence and inspire girls to go on to study science and techology subjects.
I therefore find myself with not only the opportunity, but the duty to inspire and influence young girls to consider science and technology career choices. Thats why Im a big suppoerter of the WISE campaign and thats why Im going to stand in front of 900 school girls at my old school to let them know that STEM careers are fantastic. I'll show them the picture below. Turns out those 80s nuns failed to quash our collective passion for the sciences. Katie (top row second from the left) is now a vet, Geraldine (second row up on the far left) is a civil engineer. That's me with the big hair in the front row, and next to me is my (still today) best friend Emma. She studied mathemetics at UMIST and is now an Air Traffic Controller.