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Although there is some momentum in trying to get more women into STEM, only 13 per cent of the overall STEM workforce in the UK is female – a clear indication of how we are under-represented. I often wonder what the reasons are for the under-representation of women among STEM degree holders?
The answer seems to be a of lack of exposure to prospective careers in STEM for girls. In addition, there are just a few female role models working in STEM roles in male-dominated workplaces, and some employers don’t actively seek female candidates.
Back in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where I did my bachelor’s degree in industrial design engineering, a professor encouraged me to participate in the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development programme, saying that more women were needed in programmes such as this.
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The first thing I noticed was that mostly male students engaged in these types of projects. There were only a few female colleagues, and I often felt that my voice was not being heard in such a male-dominated group. I didn’t want to leave the project, so to overcome this I reached out to women who had experienced similar scenarios to advise me on how to position myself within the group. This helped me to build the self-confidence I needed to thrive in similar contexts and to recognise the importance of having women work together and share experiences.
Additionally, working in a STEM project opened my eyes to the vast possibilities in this field and made me want to pursue jobs that allowed me to create things and to think differently.
From my experiences and observations, I think the best way to ensure equivalent participation of female and male students in STEM degrees is to promote career discovery programmes for young female students that allow them to explore their potential, curiosity and passion for innovation.
By creating different and interesting experiences for girls where they can explore technology in an interactive and insightful way – such as workshops in robotics, mechanics and coding – it is possible to give them practical knowledge and understanding of the impact that they can have being part of innovative projects.
Furthermore, it is also important to create development-oriented programmes for students, through initiatives and discussions about female empowerment in schools and universities. Educational organisations, particularly in emerging markets, should come together to develop student programmes and projects to encourage women to take up STEM degrees.
With this in mind, we should bring together students and young professionals at events, panel discussions, workshops, career discovery campaigns and in-house activities that can expand the community of women who are passionate about technology and engineering.