On International Women’s Day, Ada Lovelace Day and Clarivate held an event, Shifting the balance in STEM, at Microsoft Reactor in London on getting younger girls into STEM, the issue of gender bias, and the various pathways open to girls.
Our panel, Yasmin Ali, Allison Gardner, Liz Seward, Timo Hannay and Bella Harrison (bios below) were asked by moderator Nandita Quaderi to share when and how they got interested in science. Some of the panel knew at a very early age, others didn’t like maths and science at all but later discovered another way of engaging in STEM. Bees, sperm and Star Trek all also made an appearance!
SchoolDash founder and ALD advisor Timo Hannay talked about how girls lose interest in STEM in their mid-teens, despite there being little difference in ability between them and boys. He speculated that it could be due to expectations, both their own and from adults such as teachers. Teachers’ gender might also have an impact, for instance, biology teachers are more likely to be women, whilst physics teachers are more likely to be men. Yasmin Ali pointed out how engineering was not highlighted as a career for children, and that she found out about it by accident. This is despite it being a highly rewarding and inclusive industry.
Bella Harrison from Primo Toys discussed the issues around toys being heavily gendered, and how they are aiming to make toys that are more inclusive. She also talked about how children’s interests are socially influenced, especially by their school friends, and how school activities, such as learning to code, can be supported by coding toys at home.
The event also explored organisational changes to support diversity and Liz Seward from Airbus Space Systems discussed the LGBT and neurodiverse policies that they have incorporated, as well as the diversity targets for their managers. Airbus have reached a point where about 30 percent of their incoming engineers are women, which is about the same as the number of women leaving university with an engineering degree.
Seward also made the point that diversity means letting women be women, not forcing them to behave in the same way that men do, and that companies need a range of management styles in order to really be diverse. Mentorship and sponsors are crucial to developing female leaders.
And Allison Gardner explored the emerging problems of bias in AI due to the lack of diversity in development teams. The number of women in computer science has decreased since the 1960s, and some of the interventions to try and halt this decline have not worked. To try to combat this lack of diversity, Gardner has set up a women in AI network to give access to mentors and support, so that women gain more confidence in coding.
A lively Q&A followed the discussion, and we finished the evening off with drinks and the opportunity to talk further about the issues raised.
Liz Seward, senior strategist for Space Systems at Airbus Defence and Space. She is also the Chair of Women in Aerospace Europe’s UK group, bringing together women and men who are interested in supporting and getting involved in a more diverse and equal workforce within the space sector.
Timo Hannay, founding Managing Director of SchoolDash, an education technology company based in London that provides maps, dashboards, statistics and analysis on schools in England.
Yasmin Ali, chartered chemical engineer, writer and presenter. She was awarded the Women’s Engineering Society Young Woman Engineer award in 2013 and is passionate about promoting engineering stories and careers to the public and young people.
Bella Harrison, Operations Lead at Primo Toys. Primo creates inclusive coding toys that have introduced more than 1 million children in 180 countries to computer programming in early years.
Dr Allison Gardner, Teaching Fellow at Keele University and Programme Director for the Science Foundation Year. She is a co-founder of Women Leading in AI, encouraging women to shape the debate around the use and norms of AI and big data.
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