I was very pleased to have been asked to respond to an article that Relocate Magazine were putting together regarding STEM careers and specifically the disconnect between the genders when it came to studying it in Higher Education. As a father to a daughter and with a mother in law who has a Masters in organic Chemistry I find it baffling and dispiriting in this day and age that whether you’ve got two Xs or an X and Y it should make any difference to the career path you’d plump for.
Here is a link to their article –
And here is my response in full –
Marie Curie. Emilie Du Chatelet. Dian Fossey. Frances Hugler. Giants in their field but to many people one is the name of a charity, another is the one Sigourney Weaver played in a film and the rest are just names that may’ve been made up for the purposes of making the following point – Women have historically been overlooked and ignored in the sciences, an imbalance that remains today. Despite femalekind’s vast and incalculable contribution they lack the anatomical bits needed to enjoy the prestige of the Einsteins, the Newtons and the Edisons of this world.
STEM subjects have suffered from a perception issue, the nerdy mathletes from film and TV have done little to advance their cause but the likes of Elon Musk have helped reversed their fortunes a little, as has having people like Peggy Johnson and Lisa A. Hook in the big chairs at Microsoft. There’s the political and commercial will to promote STEM both academically and as a career for women but there remains a stark divide with only 9% of females going on to study them at degree level, compared to nearly 30% of males. But why? In short, there’s a lack of knowledge about the opportunities out there because career advice is ceded too often to teachers whose primary sphere of experience is teaching, and unless that thing is science, more often than not it simply doesn’t feature on their radar.
As ever with such matters one has to be careful about pointing the finger as it’s often reductive and unhelpful but there is, I believe, such a gross absence of quality academic and careers advice in schools and colleges nationwide that there are too few people equipped to challenge the stereotypes that have been allowed to stand for too long. That being the case how do we solve it? At home, to start with, every parent should ensure that their children grow up believing that no avenue is closed to them regardless of gender, and the rest is down to being proactive, searching on Google (46% female on the senior management team) as the information is out there for anyone who wants it. That’s what I’ll be telling my daughter.