Jackie Cook, Equality in STEM’s founder began the talk by highlighting some key and surprising figures and statistics, which illustrated the importance of efforts to try and create more diversity and equal working opportunities within the STEM industry. According to one study, a staggering 47% of 11 to 19-year-olds said they knew little or nothing about what engineers do. It is therefore no surprise that each year there is a shortfall of 59,000 STEM graduates.
Jackie went on to say that only 22% of students studying physics at A level are female, with only 16% of STEM degree graduates being female. However, gender inequality is not the only inequality evident within the engineering sector: ethnic minorities make up just 36% of entry-level roles and only 15% of executive-level roles. Whilst it is true that not all women or minority groups may want to reach the top of a company, with only 3% of executive roles being held by women of ethnic background, we have to ask, is everyone getting the same opportunity?
Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 is also having an effect on equality in STEM. The majority of home schooling has been taken up by mothers rather than fathers, leading to 17% of mothers considering reducing their hours during the pandemic, compared with only 9% of fathers.
After Jackie’s introduction, we heard from Heather Clarke who, alongside many achievements and career highlights, is the current Vice President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. She was recently recognised amongst the top 50 Women in Engineering. Heather discussed the challenges she has faced as a female mechanical engineer, such as being the only woman in her workplace. She wants to ‘share the story [that] engineering is not a dirty environment’ and wants people to know there is something for everyone in STEM.
Heather suggested 3 focus areas to create change: academia, industry, and individuals. She highlighted the importance of encouraging men to take paternity leave so that we might all start to see the benefits of sabbaticals. Reflecting upon her career, Heather urged others to challenge bad behaviour in the workplace and to be heard by colleagues.
Finally, we heard Victoria Brown discussing leadership and culture. Victoria wears many hats and amongst these she is a chartered director and a chair for the Institute of Directors South Yorkshire. Throughout her career she has been called bossy, difficult, flirty, masculine and a feminist; the latter being the only one she is proud of! She stressed the importance of authenticity, that ‘you can’t please everyone’ so do what you think is right. Victoria discussed how, without getting too political, in the past it took a certain type of woman to get to the top and that they didn’t tend to be particularly supportive of other women. Now, she says, we need to make sure there is space for everyone.