By Anastasia Gurskaya, Third year, Biochemistry
Epigram reports on a careers event geared towards women and addressing the gender imbalance in the UK's STEM workforce.
Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields are thriving at the moment. Core STEM employment had increased six times the UK’s overall employment rate. However, although the percentage of women in this workforce is growing, it still hovers at only about 20 percent.
STEM Women is set on improving the numbers. By organising careers fairs, they give young women who are still at university or have recently graduated an opportunity to connect with the employers in the field. The first event happened last year in London and was oversubscribed. Later that year they were held all around UK. On 13th of November such an event was held here in Bristol, at WeTheCurious. The list of employers attending included Welsh Water, GKN Aerospace, and the Ministry of Defence.
The event started with an inspirational talk from Rolls-Royce representatives, followed by networking as well as newly introduced sessions from Interview Skills Clinic, LinkedIn headshots and a roundtable discussion. Sophie Chadwick, STEM Women Events Manager shared that the idea of these additional sessions came from the student feedback.
The employers were very enthusiastic about attending STEM Women and said it was very professionally set up. Sophie commented: ‘They know the value of diversity. As soon as they hear about the event, they are really interested, they really want to support it. Hundreds and hundreds of women attended our events this autumn, and employers want to meet these women and see what they can offer. And students are just as enthusiastic.’
Charlotte, a GKN representative emphasized the importance of inclusion and diversity. She told Epigram that the aim is to address ‘the balance of not only women but also different cultures, different ethnicities. When I was younger, you thought of engineering and you thought “oh, greasy, getting dirty, fixing cars and stuff like that” whereas we want to show that there is more to it – you can be in design, quality, or procurement.’ She highlighted that there should be a breadth of opportunities for people of all backgrounds and levels to get involved.
Karolina who represented Edwards emphasized that STEM field is not reserved for men: “Unfortunately, we as a society still have this idea that only men work in [STEM], but it’s really not. For us, it doesn’t really matter. The reason we are here is to show that for our business, as long as you’ve got the skills, you are more than welcome.”
Kate, a recruiter for PwC, was very content with how the event played out and with the conversations she had. She said that when she ‘walked through the door, it was really inspiring how many girls there were… For us at PwC, because we recruit people from different degrees, our gender diversity is 50/50. We want to get more students who study STEM degrees, because they approach things slightly differently. And this is important for us – the diversity of approaches. We are not looking for one type of student.’
The students attending the event also seemed quite satisfied. They were from a variety of universities and courses – there were engineering, math and computer science students but also some studying subjects like biochemistry, finance and management.
"As long as you’ve got the skills, you are more than welcome.”
A third-year aerospace engineering student shared: ‘It is really useful because this year Rolls Royce didn’t make it to our university, so it was great to come here and find Rolls Royce and GKN – these are my two favourite companies’. She also highlighted that aerospace engineering, at least at her University, is male-dominated, with girls making up about 10 percent of her course. However, she was very positive about it: ‘I feel like we can go into companies dominated my men and we can make a change.’
A second-year mechanical engineering student came looking for a placement for her year in industry. Although not all the companies had opportunities specific to what she wanted, she was glad she could talk to the companies she had already considered. She commented that she doesn’t really consider gender imbalance in her subject an issue. ‘I kind of expected women to be a minority in my degree. I don’t really notice it that much, but it does seem to be getting better.’
A computer science student had a different outlook, ‘It’s weird because when I did computer science in high school I was the only girl in the class. I thought the University would be different but actually it’s not at all, and I’m one of the five girls in my year’. She found the event very useful and inspiring. ‘It’s good that there are there are these kinds of events, because at least you don’t feel alone. There is some sort of empowerment.’
A second-year civil engineering student shared an appreciation for this kind of events and the companies who recruit from a diverse background. She said ‘I feel like we are on the right track, it’s getting better every year. For example, in our course the ratio is 50:50, so I feel like that’s good. But then when it comes to working in industry, there are many more men than women.’
All in all, Bristol STEM Women Careers Event was a success for all parties. The way gender imbalance in STEM is perceived varies from person to person, and everyone has a different experience with it. However, most of us would agree that it is important to empower people to follow their aspirations and make sure opportunities are available to everyone; this event provided the students with exactly that.
Featured image: Epigram / Topaz Maitland
Do you think enough is being done to address the gender imbalance in STEM? Let us know!