young girls learning STEM
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Article provided by Laura Hutton, co-founder of Quantexa

When I talk to young girls about their future careers, they’re all too often held back by the same belief that a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) isn’t suitable for them because of one reason: they’re female.

There are several factors that could contribute to this lack of confidence in pursuing a job in STEM; maybe it’s because they believe it’s too male dominated or that they don’t believe they are equipped with the right skills? Either isn’t good enough. Girls shouldn’t be prevented from reaching their full potential due to a lack of solid careers advice or a misunderstanding of their own capabilities, and it is our responsibility to give them this guidance.

Currently, just 24 per cent of the overall STEM workforce in the UK is female and it’s time that parents, schools, businesses, and professionals play a larger role in encouraging more young women in to these specialities every step of the way.


The gender divide begins at birth. When looking at toys and clothes targeted to young boys and girls the narrative remains the same; girls are pink and playful whereas boys are illustrated as educated and heroic. One major clothing brand launched advertising campaigns to girls as ‘the social butterfly’ and to boys ‘the little scholar’ – it’s no surprise that girls feel a sense of inadequacy when it comes to STEM professions.

Parents should be able to buy toys that equally target boys and girls to inspire their young children from the start. Mattel Inc. are leading the way in this mission after recently launching a ‘Robotics Engineer Barbie’ to dissipate young girls’ perceptions of the engineer being a predominantly a male profession.

In late 2017, illustrator Adam Hargreaves revealed the 36th Little Miss character, Little Miss Inventor, created as a ‘positive role model’ for girls. The blurb of the book describes this ‘intelligent, ingenious and inventive’ addition as a girl with a brain ‘full of ideas, which she turns into extraordinary inventions in a shed at the bottom of her garden.’ As a result of eliminating these rigid definitions of job roles, young girls and boys alike will aspire to STEM roles before they even get to school.


At school, more girls need to be encouraged by their teachers to take subjects like maths and science. A very clear chain of cause and effect can be traced back to cultural perceptions around these subjects, instilled in both men and women at a young age. From day one, teachers need to eliminate the ingrained stereotype of the male scientist, data scientist or engineer. Founder of STEM Women, Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe, reiterates the responsibility schools have in encouraging the equality of STEM professions, stating that interest drops from girls at the age of 16 because they aren’t ‘able to picture themselves as a scientist.’ In fact, just 21 per cent of all physics A-level students in 2016 were women.

Demonstrating to young girls the value they have in the sector and that they are equally suitable for any job they desire and work hard for, is imperative at this young age.


A greater level of visibility in to the potential job roles that young women could pursue in the future is incredibly important. As a teenager and a mathematician at university, the options always seemed rather limited to me, whereas in reality, there are a huge number of fascinating jobs available.

For businesses, hosting work experience schemes for young girls is a brilliant way to get girls to learn first-hand how exciting it can be working in STEM and reassure them of the skills they possess. At Quantexa, we want to inspire girls to get into I.T. by offering girls-specific work experience, giving them the opportunity to put their passions into practice.

Apprenticeships also must play a more significant role in encouraging equity in STEM professions. Yet, male students outnumber women by 25 to one on engineering apprenticeships, and in construction there are 56 men to every woman.

Become a role model

Mentoring is essential for career development, regardless of whether you’re male or female, or what sector you’re in; speaking to someone who has gone through the ranks will always provide you with sound advice. Male and female experiences in the workplace are fundamentally different so becoming a mentor for young women is extremely important to help inspire young girls into STEM. I didn’t have a female mentor to guide me so I’m really passionate about encouraging women to become mentors to help guide young, talented girls into a career they truly want to be in. The young women at Quantexa have walked different and diverse paths to get to where they are today, not all by traditional routes. In turn, I hope young girls can be inspired by and look up to these successful young women as role models and see that it is possible for women to be successful in technology and leaders in innovation.

The gap is closing between male and female representation in STEM industries but it’s clear there is still much further to go. Women are consistently choosing not to pursue a career in these fields despite no evidence of biological differences in aptitude. There is no simple resolution to this deeply rooted divide that exists in our society, but equality will eventually be achieved by helping girls at each stage of their development understand that a career in STEM is not only possible but a fascinating career path well within their capabilities. Education, businesses and individuals must work together to accomplish an equitable gender distribution in STEM.

About the author

Laura Hutton is Co-Founder and Head of Fraud and Financial Markets at Quantexa – the start-up solving financial crime and terrorism through data analytics, AI and machine learning.

Laura has over 12 years’ experience using data and network analysis to tackle fraud and financial crime. In the wake of the 2008 Jérôme Kerviel rogue trading scandal, Laura pioneered and implemented the technology subsequently put in place by Société Générale to prevent similar from occurring again. She has since headed up teams at Detica and SAS, before co-founding Quantexa in 2016 where she uses sophisticated networking technology to help their clients such as HSBC, and Shell.

In an industry where only one in seven of women are executive committee members & only 17 per cent of start-ups were founded by women, Laura is passionate about inspiring girls to work in and establish companies like Quantexa. Laura runs work experience programs for 16/17 year old girls to encourage them to get into STEM subjects.