It’s Time For STEM Women To Step Forward

Hiding your light under a bushel isn’t appealing modesty, it’s actively holding women back

Entering yourself into an award is so undignified? So tacky. So Apprentice.

We’re taught from a young age, especially if we’re female, that modesty is a virtue. If someone compliments us, we should look embarrassed and deny all responsibility for it. If someone calls for volunteers we should look to the person next to us, even if we have the skills to do the task. Boasting is bad, talking about our achievements is attention-seeking. Putting ourselves in the spotlight is unladylike.

Research has shown that men are more willing to put themselves forward for roles where they don’t completely meet the criteria -20% of men will apply if they only partially meet a job description, compared with 14% of women, whereas 85% of women would only apply if they met the job description ‘fully’ or ‘pretty well’.

A headhunter once told me an amusing story – if their researcher rang a man about a job and he thought ‘I reckon they really want Alice who is sitting next me, but I’m going to blag this’. If the researcher rings the woman, the chances are she will go ‘Oh I think you want to speak to Adam who sits next to me, he is far better qualified’ – when actually it really was Alice they wanted!

Less than one in five people in science, technology and engineering (STEM) jobs in the UK are female. If we want women to aspire to these roles, we need the ones who are succeeding to speak out, to celebrate how far they’ve come and to demonstrate how it’s possible. Batting away praise and minimising these achievements is tantamount to pulling the hatch up after yourself.

Though it’s a broad statement, scientists aren’t always the most natural marketers so it’s no wonder that there isn’t a tendency to trumpet achievements. And it might feel like you’ve got better things to do, like curing cancer and cutting carbon emissions, than to enter yourself for an award. But if you want to see more women represented in STEM then you have a duty to put yourself out there.

The UK has a skills crisis. And the only way to fill the huge gaps in engineering and IT is to encourage more women into the field. We know it’s not a competence issue. Girls do better at maths and science subjects than boys but fall away when it comes to A levels, vocational qualifications, apprenticeships and university. This is partly due to a lack of visible (and noisy!) role models.

Nominations are open for the WISE awards until 23 June 2017. The awards were set up to recognise inspiring organisations and individuals who are actively promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics to girls and women. The awards shine a light on the current generation of female scientists and engineers and help inspire the next.

STEM women have got to start shouting about their achievements. They’ve got to start saying how far they’ve come and how brilliant their jobs are. And with money-can’t-buy prizes of a day’s work shadowing with a director from sponsor companies BAM Nuttall, Goldman Sachs, Babcock, NHS England, Rolls-Royce PLC, Intel, MBDA, Aveva, Thales and AWE – this could be fantastic boost to your career.

The categories are wide-ranging including best STEM toy for a young girl; technology and science to improve health in patient treatment or care; tech innovation; talent award for great recruitment; one to watch for a woman under 21; woman in industry in a leadership role, world award for making a difference in society through STEM and an award for a man making the most difference for women in STEM.

Helen Wollaston, WISE chief executive recalls a Welsh infrastructure company who wanted a woman on their board but didn’t know how to find a female engineer. She was able to give them a number of names, women who have been finalists in the WISE Awards. Entering yourself into an award isn’t boasting, it’s raising visibility of other people like you.

Perhaps you’re reading this and know you’re a high-achieving STEM woman but the very idea of nominating yourself goes against everything you know. Perhaps you’re the sibling or parent of someone who’s making big waves in their industry but “doesn’t like to make a fuss”. Well, it’s time to start making a fuss. The future of your industry might depend on it.

Enter the Wise Awards and encourage others to enter. We need more role models. The closing date is 23 June 2017 and nominees will be interviewed in person by the judges in September in London.

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