Dr Kerry BakerDr. Kerry Baker is a leading authority on science communication and getting more girls studying STEM.

As the Strategic Initiatives Lead at STEM Learning Kerry Baker supports cohesive working, collaborations, new initiatives and dissemination of good practice and success stories. She is an engineer by education and completed a PhD on why women study engineering. Her focus has been STEM education, outreach and promotion.

She is a passionate supporter of promoting STEM knowledge and skills because knowledge, understanding and manipulation of these subjects and skills will empower the next generation of scientists and engineers to solve the big issues this world is currently facing

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am an engineer by education and a STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) communicator by career (if I was trying to describe it in one phrase). I think STEM subjects offer young people so many advantages for jobs, careers and life skills that I find it sad when many miss out or give up on it. I don’t want everyone to be a STEM person, but I want everyone, when making choices, to have all the information they need to make informed decisions. Currently I’m working at STEM Learning and support CPD for teachers, STEM Clubs and most frequently the STEM Ambassador programme – a programme that supports volunteers from all sorts of industries and organisations to volunteer in schools and with young people, to bring them face to face with the realities of what STEM is and what STEM does, ultimately helping them to make those informed decisions.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Nope! Never! I think the phrase ‘always looked for a new opportunity’ is the best way to describe my career. I’ve had nine roles in 21 years of working and each new one has been because I had learnt everything I could from the previous one and wanted, no, needed, a new challenge. With each job I learnt new things, developed new skills and generally collected a breadth of knowledge and confidence. All my jobs have been aspects of education and promotion of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) so I definitely have a specialism but my career has been extremely varied. And probably because I’ve moved about and tried lots of things and said yes to opportunities I am now formulating more of a ‘plan’ – teaching in higher education at some point in the future and having STEM as my research specialism.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I’ve definitely had blockages and things to get past or problem solve in my career but they don’t feel like a challenge – I’m a problem solver, so any challenge is just another opportunity for me to find a solution. Perhaps my biggest career challenge is the one facing me now, now that I know what I want to do – it’s finding one place for me to do all the things I love (and think I’m pretty good at) – I want to teach at university, do research on STEM outreach, deliver STEM outreach, work with companies, help to evaluate impact of outreach all while making a difference ot the lives of young people. And if there were some travel opportunities thrown in as well that would be perfect!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I feel like my answer should be my PhD – I completed it part-time while doing a full-time job and being a subwarden in a university hall of residence so life was pretty busy. Plus, it’s probably technically a sociology PhD but my undergraduate degree was in engineering so I also had to learn an entire new skill set for it. But actually I think the thing I am most proud of is the development of the Engineering Colouring Book and the Engineering Colouring Wall that went with it. A book of 17 colourable images of what engineers do and who they are. This was accompanied by a 1.7m tall, 12m long wall of image that people can colour in. The last time we did it we were at Birmingham New Street station on a Saturday and we had engineering STEM Ambassadors supporting us. We got to talk about and showcase the reality and importance of engineering to all sorts of people and it was awesome!

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Perhaps it’s the utter confidence I have in my knowledge of my subject area, added by my willingness to learn more and ask for greater information if there’s something I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because I completely believe in the purpose of what I do – my passion and enthusiasm for showcasing STEM subjects and opportunities to young people appears to have no limit. I have learnt that I want to add value and make a difference, they drive me, so as long as I am doing both then, as far as I’m concerned, I am achieving success.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

I think you have to own who you are and what you can do. Believe and be confident in your skills and abilities but also be okay acknowledging what you can’t do, or what you don’t want to do. I have a very clear understanding of my skill set – I know where I can excel and add value, but I also know my weaknesses and where I’m not interested. I think in knowing that, I have been able to direct myself to the right roles and the right organisations to utilise the skills I have and enjoy using in order to make a difference. For me, doing what I’m good at to make a difference equals absolute job satisfaction.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I believe there are still all sorts of barriers, for all sorts of people, for all sorts of ridiculous reasons. But I think it’s up to you how much credence you give to them. I don’t feel that I have come up against barriers but I acknowledge that maybe I have and maybe I’m just unaware of them. Perhaps I see them as just another problem to solve? Perhaps in moving jobs as frequently as I have that’s how I’ve dealt with barriers? I don’t think I can give a definitive answer to this but I wish I could.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

I think this comes down to honesty and equality. Companies need to look at their entire process and organisation and activity and ensure it is fair in every way to everyone. Writing a manifesto for gender inclusivity won’t do it, unless the particulars of the manifesto are adhered to by everyone at all times. I think there are companies that can genuinely see the benefit of a diverse workforce and will organise themselves to make the most of it, and that is where I would expect to find more women joining and more women remaining within the organisation.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Female-targeted apprenticeship programs open to those aged over 21. Still open to under 21s as well, but I think there are a great deal of women out there that could really excel at an opportunity to enter tech at a later age. Maybe they chose the wrong career path, maybe their current career path is uninteresting, maybe they knew nothing about tech in school but now that they’ve done some coding, or found out more about tech, they want to give it a go. I find that our society focuses so much on determining your ‘forever’ career path at 14 it can leave a lot of people unsatisfied. Offering female-targeted (targeted is the key point, not ‘only’ females) can immediately make changes. I’ve seen it happen at Zoopla. Seven out of ten software engineering apprenticeships in 2020 were taken up by females, not because they prioritised females, but because they made sure they clearly referenced females in the adverts. Other companies have used the same principles in advertising some of their roles and have seen a rise in female applications as well. The apprenticeship route has the potential to have an immediate impact on the gender split in a company but it also offers a second chance to women, that for whatever reason, may have been wary or unaware of tech roles in their school years.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I don’t really use podcasts or anything like that. Well, the ones I like are not really for work purposes (BBC’s ‘50 things that made the modern economy’ and Sara Pascoe’s ‘Sex Power Money’)! I’ve used the articles on Psychology Today (website) quite a lot over the years, for personal stuff as well as professional. I think what’s worked the best for me is only thinking about or trying to understand my own behaviours, my own actions and my own feelings as they’re the only things I can change or control, and definitely the only things I have more chance of knowing for certain! But what I definitely do, and have always done, is build up a collection of people (women and men, professional and personal) in my life that I have a huge level of respect for and who can challenge or advise or encourage me – podcasts in real life!

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