This is a guest blog post from Jo Cruse - it was originally published on Womenthology on 24 February.
Jo Cruse is Stemettes’ Communications Lead and she is a specialist communications and PR consultant in the social enterprise sector. Jo also has experience in politics and lobbying, as well as having taught politics and economics.
How do we inspire more young women into STEM?
It’s not about convincing girls that STEM is the only path for them. We believe that girls should be free to choose whichever career path they wish.
In fact, it’s simpler than that.
Inspiring more girls into STEM is about encouraging girls to have the confidence to be who they already are, and showing them how STEM can help them to get there.
It’s about showing girls that the definition of STEM is much broader than they perhaps realise, and that it can be an invaluable part of their future success – irrespective of their career aspirations. Whether they wish to go into biomedical engineering, fine art, politics or physiotherapy, STEM has a role to play.
Anne-Marie Imafidon and Jacquelyn Guderley co-founded Stemettes to inspire girls into careers in STEM. We do this through hackathons, panel events, Outbox Incubator, and the Student to Stemette programme supported by Deutsche Bank. Stemettes was started in response to the persistent underrepresentation of women in STEM – as illustrated by a 2015 WISE report, which found that only 14.4% of the UK’s STEM workforce is female.
A valuable opportunity
As we look ahead to International Women’s Day on the 8th March, we’re presented with a valuable opportunity to reflect on how far the push for gender parity has come, and the distance which still needs to be travelled.
Key to tackling the underrepresentation of women in STEM will be industry’s ability to communicate effectively with young women. For a tech-loving generation, the medium industry uses to connect with girls will be as important as their message.
Despite the STEM sector having one invaluable factor in its favour in this regard – easy access to technology – ironically the critical role technology can play in increasing young women’s involvement in STEM is often overlooked, but we’re determined to change this.
To coincide with our 3rdbirthday in February, we launched our flagship app, OtotheB. The app is supported by the Salesforce Foundation and Deutsche Bank and it creates a global online platform for girls interested in STEM and entrepreneurship. OtotheB plans to extend a version of the Outbox Incubator offering to a much wider audience – hence the app’s title being derived from the incubator’s name. We developed OtotheB with the lessons learnt from the 8000 girls it has reached to date in mind.
Engaging hearts and minds
The app is free and seeks to use tech to engage the hearts and minds of this gadget-savvy generation. Open to girls aged 11+, OtotheB gives users access to functionality such as “Motivation Mondays” (exclusive interviews with inspiring women in STEM, and the chance to win an opportunity to shadow them in the workplace), “Win Wednesdays” (access to competitions to win exclusive merchandise, STEM gadgets and networking opportunities) and “Thought Time Thursdays” (Google Hangouts with industry role models).
At the other end of the spectrum, face-to-face interactions are as critical to inspiring girls into STEM as technology.
With this in mind, in 2015, we officially launched the Student to Stemette (STS) programme, supported by Deutsche Bank. STS aims to inspire young women into STEM careers by connecting them with a woman in industry (known as their Sherpa) who actively mentors them over the course of four months.
Alongside the mentoring, all girls selected for the programme (known as Sherpees) can access OtotheB and work experience placements. Five will have the opportunity of being selected to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, which takes place in the United States in October.
Celebrating International Women’s Day
To celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, we’ll be combing our shared love for tech and connecting girls with inspiring women in STEM. With our sponsors Rise London in partnership with Barclays, we’ll be hosting a free two-day hackathon called Rise Hack in London on 5th-6th March. Girls will spend the hackathon exploring app building software and creating apps which fit the hack’s theme of ‘Personal finance and banking for girls and women’, and no previous coding experience is necessary.
Tickets for the hackathon can be booked here. If you’re a STEM professional and would like to volunteer on the day we’d love to hear from you! Choose the ‘Stemette Supporter’ option when registering and we’ll be in touch.
We all – parents, teachers, frontline organisations, industry and government – have a role to play in inspiring the next generation of women in STEM. This International Women’s Day is an ideal opportunity for us all to reach out to as many girls as possible, and do what we can to ensure they develop the confidence and conviction to fulfil their highest potential.