Are we finally getting ‘wiser’ when it comes to helping women find their way in STEM?

While there’s plenty of conversation in today’s business world around gender parity, are we really any further forward in the more masculine perceived careers?
We chat to the current chair of WISE Young Women’s Board.

The concept of achieving equality in the workplace is hardly a new topic.

For decades, employers and educators have been trying to tiptoe their way toward ensuring a more even playing field for girls and women setting out on their career paths.

In certain sectors and professions of course, there’s a likelihood that the female of the species is at least slightly more likely to see doors just as open for her as for her male colleagues.

But what about that testosterone-heavy (or so perceived) world of science and engineering?

While the best of intentions may exist, it’s still a clear and present reality that there are less young women securing posts in this arena.

Is that a result of nature or nurture? Is it preference, or plain old prejudice?

Whatever the answer, the facts are apparent.

Current stats suggest that in the UK, for example, technical engineering posts are only held by women in some 11% of cases.

Are we therefore fighting a losing battle, or are there finally some optimistic signs of change?

One woman who believes passionately that things can and will change is Susie Jutsum, the 29-year-old dynamic new chair of WISE Young Women’s Board.

WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) sprang into existence as far back as 1984, following a heavily publicised piece of research – The Finniston Report – that concluded a broader talent pool of scientists and engineers would be needed in the future world.

That year the Engineering Council and the Equal Opportunities Commission came together to form WISE as a kickstart initiative, seeking to get more females into the world of science, tech and similar professions.

Some 30 years later, the concept took a new turning in its journey, with the important birthing of the Young Women’s Board.

“We’re relatively young, given YWB only emerged four years ago, but we’re seriously punching above our weight and getting noticed in some great ways,” says Susie.

“As a board of 12 under 30s, we’re focused on championing the idea of STEM for girls and young women, and acting as role models within the industry.

“All of us have different experiences about how difficult or life-affirming it has been to get into the sector of science and engineering, but we have a common shared interest in wanting the pathways and the celebration to be that much greater for our female peers in the future.”
Far from being an obvious STEM candidate, Susie admits to having very little focus around her career choice after A Levels.

She missed her preferred university option, and it was only when her Mum suggested the idea of civil engineering that she began to develop her niche career path.

“I suppose it proves the point that no-one had ever really pointed out some of those STEM fields as career options to me when I was at school, and it was really by happy accident that I found myself chatting to the Engineering Development Trust and subsequently getting a sponsored year-long placement with Mott MacDonald before university and subsequent summer placements during,” she says.

“I came out of my studies with a first class degree, specialised, and joined the fabulous firm which had supported me so well before and during University. The company really ‘got’ the idea of supporting young women to realise more scope and opportunity in STEM.

“It’s firms like Mott MacDonald and the one I’m in now – Tony Gee and Partners – which is going to ultimately end up making the difference in how STEM careers are embraced and entered by women, because they’re prepared to commit time to developing school-focused projects which really give students, of both gender, an exciting and informative taste of what’s on offer.”

Alongside her 11 peers on the board, Susie, from Gloucestershire, is helping to champion STEM events up and down the country, to improve dialogue around the sector, and influencing schools and companies to become better involved with the wider objectives of achieving a better gender balance.

“You can’t hide behind the numbers,” she admits.
“Definitely we’ve still got a long long way to go, and as we sit here today, there’s still a whole lot more to achieve.”

“That said, I really believe that it’s because of the collective approach of things like WISE, and younger teaching staff doing their bit in schools to change the way different careers are positioned to their pupils, that we are seeing some movement for the better.

“Sure, it’s slow, but it’s getting better.

“That’s why it’s so important that WISE YWB engages with schools as much as possible and encourages employers to develop projects which will spark the interest and enthusiasm of younger women.”

Early this summer will see hundreds of women coming together in the heart of the UK for the latest WISE Conference.

It’s there that women like Susie will re-open the dialogue around what changes are still required, and how those will best be achieved.

“We really look forward to the annual conference because it’s a great way of having shared conversation about the sector, but it also provides a yearly benchmark in terms of seeing how much further we’ve come.

“My message to any employer or school leader who wants to push toward more balance in the sector, and wants to help young females get a clearer vision of what’s achievable, is talk to WISE.

“Nothing feels like a greater sense of career satisfaction to me than knowing I’m making a difference about how the industry is perceived.

“If I can spark the enthusiasm of just one schoolgirl, and help her enter a profession which I love so much – then that will have made my role as chair of WISE YWB a complete triumph.”

Information

For more information about Wise YWB, and about the forthcoming conference, you can contact www.wisecampaign.org.uk

Eloquently Her is delighted to be preparing for a sector-special podcast with women from WISE. This will take place in the summer of 2018 and will also be featured as a Facebook Live.

For more insight, or if you have a story about your success in the field of STEM, email our team on editorial@eloquentlyher.com