Written by Helen Wollaston

In The News

Step up STEM women

WISE chief executive Helen Wollaston says it’s time for women in STEM to stop being modest.

Helen Wollaston (centre) with winners of the WISE Awards 2016.

Are you a woman working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths)? And proud of what you have achieved? Would you be a great role model for budding scientists and engineers? Could you be on the board of a tech company? Or maybe it’s your friend or sister who is trailblazing and should be recognised?

I am hoping you will nominate yourself – or encourage others – for our WISE Awards. This is not a bit of fun or arrogantly pushing yourself forward, this is a serious business issue for our country and you and your STEM sisters could help to solve a growing crisis.

So why is this important? There are three reasons. The first is sheer fairness. I have spent my life campaigning to help people realise their potential and change outdated perceptions – whether it is about teenage mums, people with a history of mental illness and minority ethnic communities or opening girls’ eyes to the fun jobs in tech and engineering.

The next reason is the UK has a skills crisis. We need more people working in engineering and IT and the only way to fill these gaps, especially with Brexit, is to encourage more women to look at these careers.

The ridiculous thing is that girls are doing better than boys at maths and science GCSEs (according to WISE research, 71 per cent of girls achieve A*-C grades in STEM, compared with only 62 per cent of boys), but then fall off the radar when it comes to A Levels, vocational qualifications, university and jobs.

“Women in STEM careers have got to start saying, ‘I love maths, I earn decent money, I love my job.’”

So the perception that ‘girls can’t do maths’ could not be more wrong – and this is why we need role models of ordinary women, doing well and loving their jobs in STEM careers. This will make the biggest impact for the next generation and, we hope, encourage women to put themselves forward for promotion and top jobs in those careers.

Of course, engineering, science and IT careers are generally well paid. If we could only get more women working in these sectors, it would quickly start sorting out some of the gender pay gap issues.

I love a quote that the chair of WISE, Trudy Norris-Grey, made earlier this year. She is a managing director at Microsoft, based in Seattle, and was talking to an audience of 200 at an event in Cardiff and said: “Women in STEM careers have got to start saying, ‘I love maths, I earn decent money, I love my job.’” We are looking for fresh role models to inspire girls from all backgrounds that science, maths, technology and engineering are cool.”

The final reason I want us all to encourage women to enter these awards is best told by a story. Last month, an infrastructure company in Wales mentioned they wanted a woman on their board, but didn’t know how to find a female engineer. I was able to give them a number of names – women who have been finalists in our WISE Awards.

Award categories include tech innovation; technology and science to improve health in patient treatment or care; one to watch for a woman under 21; woman in industry – in a leadership role; and the world award for making a difference in society through STEM. There is also an award for a man making the most difference for women in STEM.

All winners will receive a money-can’t-buy prize of a day’s work-shadowing with a director from our sponsor companies, BAM Nuttall, Goldman Sachs, Babcock, NHS England, Rolls-Royce PLC, Intel, MBDA, Aveva, Thales and AWE.

Online nomination forms can be found at wiseawards.gtisolutions.co.uk/Home/Guest.
The closing date for the awards is 23 June 2017 and nominees will be interviewed in person by the judges in September in London.


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Written by Helen Wollaston

Helen Wollaston is chief executive of WISE, a campaigning group that enables and energises people in business, industry and education to increase the participation, contribution and success of women in STEM.