Women are needed to solve society’s greatest challenges

By Helen Wollaston, Chief Executive, WISE, the campaign for gender balance in STEM

The recent global pandemic highlights the vital role science, technology, engineering and mathematics play in the world today.

From scientists working on life-saving tests and vaccines, IT specialists providing technology to allow us to stay in touch, technicians and engineers manufacturing medical equipment, to epidemiologists and data scientists advising the Government – never before have STEM professionals been more in the public eye.

One million women now work in STEM

In 2019, we reached the significant milestone of one million women working in STEM roles in the UK.

By sharing stories of women using science and technology in real life situations, such as saving lives at risk during a pandemic, we can inspire and motivate more girls and women to choose STEM, so that they too can make a difference.

Working together to reach girls

This year we launched our ‘1 of the million’ women campaign, putting faces and stories to the women in the UK STEM workforce.

Women can join the campaign by uploading a photo and a few words about their job for sharing on social media.

My Skills My Life

They can also add their profile to the ‘My Skills My Life’ online careers platform, which helps girls discover their personality type and explore exciting opportunities in STEM that match their strengths, skills and interests.

STEM ambassadors use My Skills My Life to inspire girls as part of their outreach and engagement activities.

Last year, WISE hosted ‘STEM Accord’, a partnership to co-ordinate STEM activities to reach more girls and students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Next year, via our involvement in a ‘Gender Balance in Computing’ project, led by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we will train women working in tech to trial My Skills My Life in primary schools.

Only by working in partnership, evaluating the impact of our programmes and scaling up those that are proven to make a positive difference will we make progress at the scale and pace required.

‘Ten Steps’ to transform organisational culture

We must also support employers in developing workplace cultures where everyone is made to feel welcome, supported and able to fulfil their potential.

WISE’s ‘Ten Steps’ address the underlying issues for women in a traditionally male-dominated organisational culture.

We offer practical advice and guidance to employers, based on real examples, on the steps they can take to transform their culture.

Organisations may be doing one or two of the right things, but what makes a real difference is a systematic approach throughout the business, led from the top.

Companies using the Ten Steps for three to four years show an average improvement of 10% recruitment, retention and progression of women into leadership roles.

The benefit of training programmes

We are seeing an encouraging growth in returner and retraining programmes from employers, which attract a lot of interest from women and work well for employers seeking to attract and retain talented people.

We would like to see training programmes available to women across the UK who would like to move into a more technical role – which means connecting education, training and work placements on a national scale.

In the long-term, we need to improve the relevance and appeal of computing to girls at an early age. In the short-term, to fill immediate skills shortages, we should offer more accessible pathways for women to retrain to work in technology.

Technology qualifications open doors to work anywhere and provide exciting opportunities to work on projects that have such a fundamental impact on all our lives – whether it be a global pandemic or climate change.

We recently worked on the 2020 Women in STEM campaign with Mediaplanet.

A printed publication was enclosed within every copy of New Scientist Magazine and the content is available online at www.womeninstem.co.uk

The campaign featured exclusive content from key thought leaders and industry voices touching on key issues about gender equality, challenging stereotypes, and highlighting why we need to strive for a diverse STEM workforce.

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