From the Link Between Owning a TV in Brazil and Fertility… to Women in STEM

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by Rebekah Valero-Lee on

In support of our partnership with the University of Salford, Morson sponsored Anisah K and Sarah McCormick to attend the Promoting Women in STEM conference before Christmas.

women in STEMAnisah, a BSc (Hons) Business and Management Studies with Professional Experience student at the University of Salford, gives us the lowdown on how the conference informed her latest research project on increasing the proportion of women in STEM subjects.

When it came to my final year research project, I was captivated by the fact I had the freedom to choose a topic of my choice. I’ve always had an interest in how times have changed through the decades. I had so many interesting topics to choose from, from aviation to discrimination at work, from the stigma around mental health to wanting to research if there is a correlation between owning a TV in a developing country and fertility.

But with my rational head screwed on tight, the feminist within wanted to touch upon gender diversity, and I ended up settling with Women in STEM. A topic I’m familiar with, but had to school my lecturers on as they’d never heard of the STEM acronym before.

My research had to be ‘applied’ meaning it had to relate to a real life organisation, so what better organisation to choose than our very own University of Salford! I attended an event to speak to some first year female students within the Computer Science, and Engineering School where I met Rachel, the Maker Space Project Manager, and Sarah who’s Masters Dissertation is centred around the lack of women in STEM.

Rachel then invited Sarah and I to attend a conference aptly named Promoting Women in STEM, which looked at necessary strategies to increase the number of women working in the UK STEM sector. Our tickets were kindly sponsored by Morson who are also working together with the university on Women in STEM projects.

The conference took place at the Midland Hotel in Manchester. It seemed fitting as it’s the very place where Rolls met Royce – a company now making strides in the world of STEM.

The day started off with a keynote speech by Helen Wollaston, the Chief Executive for The WISE Campaign. Helen shone a spotlight on the gender gap in STEM where ‘women are the minority from the classroom to the boardroom’, and also spoke about the People Like Me campaign which addresses the lack of girls in STEM subjects by showing them that people with similar personality traits are happy and successful working in STEM. Helen highlighted that out of 14,000 engineering apprentices, only 450 were girls, and women only open days increased applications from 10% to 15%.

Following Helen, was another keynote by Kirsten Bodley, Chief Executive Officer for WES (Women’s Engineering Society). Kirsten spoke of hidden barriers and opportunity gaps which create a misbalance of gender and diversity. She also spoke of reducing imbalances by looking at every step of the recruitment process, and having men as allies championing the Women in STEM movement. Kirsty’s speech has a strong focus on mentoring, where WiBEC and Mentor SET could be used as an example to support women entering STEM and work in aiding retainment.

Other speakers included Cristina Data from Ofcom who touched on why diversity in engineering is important. ‘Engineering is about problem solving and diversity of thinking helps approach problems differently to find new solutions’. Brenda Yearsley from Siemens talked about the lack of engineering graduates due to insufficient social mobility, and how early life choices can develop women into leadership roles. Brenda also articulated how ‘men apply for jobs when they have 80% of the required skills compared to women applying when they have 120% of the required skills’ – a statement that seemed to resonate with the women in the room! Nike Folayan from the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers mentioned not enough BAME are going through Russel Group universities and therefore not enough are filling jobs within STEM. She highlighted that ‘diversity attracts diversity’ in a similar way to the ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ analogy.

Dr Emily Grossman talked about how she left STEM twice due to losing her confidence in the ‘macho’ environment, and her changed perception of her abilities rather than actually losing her abilities. She focused on compassion, collaboration and creativity to engage young girls who may be ‘sensitive’. Tom Welton from Imperial College London focused on inclusivity being the key to good leadership and that everyone across all levels has their own tiny responsibility. Finally, Liz Painter, STEM Co-Ordinator for Sandbach High School spoke of how she engages pupils through ‘STEM by stealth’ She gets students to think about if ‘engineers save more lives than doctors?’ and holds sessions where the girls get to make beauty products. She facilitated a trip to Houston next year for 28 students to take part in a 2-day workshop with NASA! If that doesn’t make STEM sound cool, I don’t know what does!

I gained a lot from the conference, it provided me with a good foundation for my research. There were some brilliant inspiration gained from what other educational institutions are doing to encourage girls to pursue STEM – a few of which will definitely make their way into the ‘recommendations’ bit of my report where I can make suggestions to the university on how to facilitate the increase of women to STEM subjects. Watch this space!

Click here to read more about the partnership between the University of Salford and Morson or join our Women in Industry LinkedIn group to share knowledge, inspire change and shout about success.

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