Why we’re working with the Arthur C Clarke Award

Clarke Award logoYesterday, I was happy to see Tom Hunter, director of the Arthur C Clarke Award, announce that he and I are working together to bring our two organisations closer together. In 2013, the Clarke Award was criticised for having an all-male shortlist. Having an all-male shortlist once in a while (this was only the second in nearly 30 years) should surprise no one, given how few science fiction books by women are published and then submitted for awards. Its statistical inevitability doesn’t, however, mean that the question of how many women write in the genre should go unexamined. Indeed, Tom and I have had some very long, very interesting conversations about it, and it was these conversations that lead us to decide to find a way to bring our organisations together.

STEM and science fiction suffer from the same ‘pipeline’ problem — it’s hard to attract women, and harder to retain them. And both fields have a problem with prejudice, including conscious sexism and the more pernicious unconscious bias. These are complex cultural challenges that need a lot of unpicking, and for which there isn’t a silver bullet. I’ve always been a pluralist and believe that to effectively tackle this problem we need to take many different approaches, none of which will be able to solve the whole problem, but each of which can deal with a particular facet. Together, these many different approaches can effect significant change.

One of the reasons I’ve been wanting to work with the Clarke Award is that there is a delightful overlap between science fiction and STEM, one that I’m keen to explore. Science fiction has inspired many a youngster to go into STEM, and advances in STEM have in turn inspired more authors than we can count. I’m excited to think about how a collaboration between ALD and the Clarke Award can help women on both sides of that equation!

Another reason for this is more personal: I grew up reading my Dad’s science fiction collection. Indeed, I graduated straight from Nancy Drew to Arthur C Clarke, EE Doc Smith, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and whatever else my Dad had on his bookshelves. I read anything and everything, frequently when I should have been asleep.

The first science fiction author that I discovered for myself was Anne McCaffrey and she became one of my favourites. For the first time, I could read about women’s heroism, from a woman’s perspective. So much science fiction then was by men, about men, and for men, and whilst I would read it all and enjoy quite a bit of it, it didn’t speak to me. McCaffrey did.

Whether it was her Pern series, or The Crystal Singer, or Dinosaur Planet, or the Talents series, or any of her other books, McCaffrey’s women were opinionated, strong, talented, flawed and, above all, interesting. And they provided me with the the kinds of female role models that I didn’t see in everyday life, or even on TV. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, my main role models as a teen were McCaffrey’s Lessa and Killashandra, followed the very real Maggie Philbin, presenter on Tomorrow’s World. And that, really was all there was.

Role models aren’t just living women, or historical women, they are fictitious women too. We make sense of the world using stories, and fiction helps us explore ideas of what life would be like in a different reality. Before we can do something, we have to imagine it. Seeing women as leading characters in my favourite books, reading about women doing science, exploring the universe, as experts and leaders, and yes, even flying dragons, helps us to imagine ourselves doing those things, (especially flying dragons). These stories told me that someone, somewhere, thought that women could be more than just a footnote, a nameless character in the background, or a gruesome death to motivate a man.

So working with Tom and the Clarke Award on the issues facing women in science fiction speaks directly to the core mission of Ada Lovelace Day: to create new role models for girls and women in STEM. And it adds a new one: to inspire science fiction authors, especially women, with the amazing, astounding and real stories of women in STEM.

Video: How Ada Lovelace Day Started

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Madrid, to speak to the Ciencia en Redes 2016 conference for science communicators about how Ada Lovelace Day started, and how we use social media to help have an impact far larger than our modest size should suggest.

It was a great opportunity for me to take a look at how much Ada Lovelace Day has grown since I started it, well, actually in late 2008 if we go by the first @findingada tweet! And it prompted me to look forward, and see what kind of work we still need to do, particularly in terms of reaching out to new audiences.

You can watch the whole day on YouTube, or just my talk (also below).

You might also want to take a look at the talk before mine, by Jenni Fuchs of @Museum140, who gave a fantastic talk about some of the Twitter hashtag campaigns she’s run around different museum-related themes. We’ll certainly be following her lead by developing such events ourselves!

Welcoming The IET and Ada Diamonds

Venue Partner: The IETThe IET logo

I’m delighted to announce that The IET, one of the world’s leading professional societies for the engineering and technology community, is supporting us this year by becoming our Venue Partner for Ada Lovelace Day Live!

The IET run the prestigious IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Award, the Mary George Memorial Prize for Apprentices and, in conjunction with the Women’s Engineering Society, the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) Prize. Aimed at early career professional women, aged between 18 and 35, and working in the UK, nominations for this year’s awards are still open, with a deadline of 30 June 2016.

You can follow The IET on Twitter: @IETWomenNetwork

We are very excited to be holding Ada Lovelace Day Live! in the newly refurbished Kelvin Lecture Theatre, and strongly suggest that you save the evening of Tuesday, 11 October and be ready to snap up tickets when they go on sale!

Ada Diamonds logoSponsor: Ada Diamonds

I’m also thrilled to introduce you to another new sponsor, Ada Diamonds, who use cutting-edge technology to produce bespoke, sustainable, and conflict-free diamond jewellery. Their diamonds are “grown by scientists in labs around the world and are chemically identical to mined AD-014-500-1diamonds, but socially and environmentally superior to Earth-extracted diamonds”.

Ada Diamonds does not just use conflict-free lab-grown diamonds, they also only use “ethically sourced metals of the highest purity”. Their Ada Collection features earrings, necklaces, bracelets and rings in a variety of modern and traditional designs.

Ada Diamonds are possibly our most glamorous sponsor so far, and we’re looking forward to perhaps one day seeing their diamonds in person!


Welcoming the Royal Astronomical Society

One hundred years ago today, the Royal Astronomical Society elected women as fellows for the first time in their history. Despite awarding its Gold Medal to Caroline Herschel in 1828 and giving an honorary membership to Mary Somerville in 1835, it was not until 1916 that women were admitted to the RAS. Says the RAS in today’s press release:

Mary Adele Blagg, Ella K Church, A Grace Cook and Fiammetta Wilson became the first elected female Fellows of the RAS on 14 January 1916. Six more followed that year, including Annie Maunder, more than 24 years after her first attempt to join.

Dr Bailey [Astronomy Secretary] commented: “Early women astronomers fought hard to gain recognition for their work, to be allowed to join the RAS and to take part in scientific discussions. I am both grateful they did so and in awe of their determination to succeed. They paved the way for women today and many are tough acts for us to follow.”

As part of their year long celebration of this milestone, the RAS will be the Platinum Sponsor of this year’s Ada Lovelace Day Live!. We are looking forward to working with them over the coming months to highlight the crucial roles that women have played in astronomy over the centuries, and are honoured to be a part of such an important anniversary.

ICE Civils Comeback scheme – Helping you back into work

Nathan BakerGuest post by Nathan Baker, Director of Engineering Knowledge, Institution of Civil Engineers

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) wants to help professionals, particularly women who have taken a career break, return to work and come back to civil engineering.

Barriers to work

We recognise that many people struggle to find the right opportunities to return to engineering after having children, taking a career break to travel or simply having tried a role in something else.  

If this sounds familiar and you, or someone you know are worried your skills have depreciated or that the sector you once knew has moved on, ICE want to help.

The Civils Comeback scheme aims to help rebuild your confidence, networks, skills and knowledge base. We want to bring professionals back to civil engineering, and have put together a programme of resources and opportunities to help.

Why come back to civil engineering?

There has never been a better time to come back to civil engineering.  It is projected that we will need an extra 1.82 million people with engineering skills up to 2022.  

Simply put, we need more people with engineering skills in the short, medium and long term.  There are opportunities available, and we want to point you in the right direction.

Impact of the skills shortage

The STEM skills shortage in the UK is complicating the ability of firms to meet the rising demand in construction. It is widely accepted that we face an impending skills crisis, with significant consequences, including:  

  • Industry competence to deliver quality products or services may be lost
  • Costs and inflationary pressures may escalate, placing further stress on budgets and large-scale planning
  • Major projects may be postponed or cancelled as no longer financially viable, resulting in the loss of UK plc competitive advantage in the global marketplace

Professor John Perkins’ Review of Engineering Skills (2013) identified that engineering skills take a long time to develop, particularly when you take account of the time needed to develop the academic foundations of engineering by studying maths and science in school.

In the short term, we can improve supply by investing in retaining those with engineering skills and encouraging them to return if they have left the profession or taken a career break. Building on this recommendation, we want to get more people back into work as a civil engineer.  

More importantly however, we cannot deny that there is a historic gender imbalance in the engineering profession. This is a reputation we want and need to shed and ICE is committed to taking positive steps to resolve this.

We need a strong and diverse workforce to build the essential infrastructure society depends on.  

What is ICE offering?

ICE has created an online resource offering which includes:

  • Information and access to work-placements with sponsoring organisations
  • Support through the ICE Benevolent Fund’s coaching scheme to provide the tools needed to get come back  to engineering
  • Use of our online career-planning resources to help identify the right area(s) of civil engineering for you
  • Access to knowledge resources and networking events
  • Access to ICE’s informal mentoring service with over a hundred experienced civil engineers offering support and guidance

How to find out more

To find out more, please visit www.ice.org.uk/civilscomeback. Or for an informal chat, contact Adam Kirkup on 020 7665 2262 or adam.kirkup@ice.org.uk