Showing the love(lace) for women in STEM: working toward equality

Today marks Ada Lovelace Day – an international celebration of the achievements of women in STEM. Here six ‘un-stereotypical’ women share their love for the industries, and why businesses and education must encourage greater equality in STEM.

A recent study found that women inventors account for just under 13% of patent applications globally. That works out as one female inventor for every seven male ones. It’s a troubling statistic.

Why is the figure so low? Well, according to the researchers, the gap is attributed to a significant lack of women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). Most of us are well aware of this, but despite efforts to improve the imbalance only a quarter of the UK’s STEM workforce is female. Without more women in STEM, we are missing out on an incredible amount of potential.

Esther Mahr, Conversational Experience Designer, IPsoft,first heard the name Ada Lovelace – and became acquainted with her achievements – when she was at university, attending a course called ‘Archaeology of the Computer, Aesthetics of Programming, Beauty of the Interface’. But for Mahr, Ada Lovelace Day is about shining a light on the past and present women in STEM and inspiring young girls with their achievements.

“When I look around at industry gatherings, among a sea of engineers, developers, programme managers, business analysts and service delivery heads, I still see too few female faces. And it’s not just a lack of female representation – we are a rather homogeneous industry.

“While one day is a good start to creating awareness, more needs to be done to encourage girls to take up STEM subjects. As technology – and in particular AI – becomes an integral part of our world, we have to equip younger generations with the necessary skills they will need to be successful in their future working lives.”

Joanne Warner, Head of Customer Service, Natterboxexplains that it was only after she had her second child that she felt that her gender was an issue at work. “Some of my management and colleagues thought that my commitment and motivations within the workplace had changed. But this only made me even more determined to prove that work ethic is not defined by gender or children.

“Everyone will always come across workplace challenges, but I enjoy sometimes having to prove myself – it’s what keeps us engaged with our work and motivated to push forward. It is however incredibly important that, on days like Ada Lovelace Day, we reflect on what we can do to further the STEM industry to being as equal as possible in all respects.”

Warner believes: “We need diversity to thrive and evolve, so it’s vital that business and education organisations continue to promote all opportunities as equal. Spending time and investment in understanding people’s motivations and strengths can produce the most innovative and loyal employees or students.

“My advice to women looking to enter a STEM role is, don’t hesitate! There are so many incredibly rewarding roles and opportunities. Whether male or female, be comfortable with who you are and always aim for the blue sky, that is, wherever you want to end up.”

Lori MacVittie, Principal Threat Evangelist, F5 Networks, says: “It is important to remember that data and computers don’t care about gender, so women shouldn’t let it bother them either. If you’re interested in a STEM career, just go for it!”

MacVittie adds: “There is a tendency to dismiss women in technology that aren’t in a hands-on role. But we need to support and promote all women in the field because ultimately, not everyone that wants a slice of the technology world wants to sit and code all day.

“STEM has a brand problem, and a perceived stereotypical image that woman in STEM wear all black, no heels and are introverts. But that’s just not the case! Whatever kind of woman you are, what you wear or what personality you have, is irrelevant. There’s a role for you.”

Barbara Schretter, Team Lead Data Science, Celonis, agrees that it’s important to encourage more women of all ages, backgrounds and experience levels to explore working in technology. “Hopefully by making role models more visible, we can inspire the next generation of female technology professionals.”

“There will be more and more people needed in tech in the future” explains Schretter. “The sooner young people start with coding, the better it will be for their future careers. Even if they don’t programme on their own, to have a basic understanding of coding can’t do any harm. Having companies involved in such projects might also help them get excited about building their own scripts or solving various problems through scripting.”

For Natacha Robert, Divisional Finance Director, Civica, her experience in education is a testament to this. “Studying STEM gives you the best career foundation. For example, my STEM background and knowledge have no doubt informed many of my leadership decisions in my current role, resulting in more scientifically grounded and logical decision-making.

“Having a STEM background has given me a better understanding of my peers’ specialities, related to software development and system architecture. I firmly believe that studying STEM subjects equips you with problem-solving skills and teaches you how to apply knowledge and skills to real-world professional challenges, giving you the ability to maximise results.”

Without a doubt, there is still a long way to go. Lindsey Kneuven, Chief Impact Officer at Pluralsight and Executive Director of Pluralsight One, says: “Despite the increased awareness around STEM’s gender imbalance, the problem is systemic. According to a recent UNESCO report, women represent just 35% of STEM students globally. We must accelerate the pace of change to achieve gender equity and ensure the voices, expertise, power and perspectives of women are included to help shape the future. 

“Equitable representation is critical and can’t wait. Diversity introduces unique thought, champions innovation and creativity, and improves performance. Organisations need a dynamic and representative workforce to properly meet the needs of the global communities they live and work in and innovate for.”

Kneuven adds: “Now is the time for companies to prove they are not merely interested in rhetoric but are committed to achieving lasting change in the STEM industry within our lifetime. We must eliminate the barriers that prevent girls’ participation, radically disrupt our education systems and hiring practices to ensure true inclusion and inspire the next generation of talent to pursue their own promising STEM careers. It’s time for all leaders to evaluate how they can make a difference and move the industry forward with equal representation.”

Awareness days like Ada Lovelace Day are incredibly important when it comes to reflecting on prevalent issues within society and the workplace. But that reflection can’t be limited to only one or two days a year. Individuals, businesses and educational institutions need to act or continue acting, to improve equality for STEM and other industries, whether there’s a gender, racial or any other imbalance.

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