Why women need to work together to inspire the next generation


We may be well and truly into the 21st Century, but we’re still a long way off a balanced representation of genders in all sectors and at all levels.

There’s still a mismatch of women on the board despite the quotas that have been batted around and there are numerous industries that remain male-dominated – technology, engineering and construction to name a few. So how should we go about moving this issue forward?

Woman and Child - Via Shutterstock - Gender Representation
Via Shutterstock

It’s important to state first and foremost that there are numerous initiatives that are helping to address gender imbalance, TechFuture Girls for example, all of which will continue to encourage more women into roles they might not normally consider. But if we delve deeper into the issue there’s one solution that needs to be added to the mix: more female role models.

My reasoning behind this is based on sound information from the affected audience themselves. As part of our Next Tech Girls campaign – which aims to place 5,000 more females into tech roles by 2020 – I’ve been speaking to girls taking ICT and Computing at GCSE level. What I discovered was certainly eye-opening. Many revealed that they would not choose to continue with a career in tech as they believed that roles in this field require individuals to spend hours sat at a desk reading reams of code. However, this simply is not the case.

I believe that if we are to address the gender imbalance in these historically male-dominated arenas we need to start in the classroom by not only encouraging more girls to study STEM subjects, but also get them passionate about them too. The sheer variety of opportunities that these sectors can open up to females is immense and they need to be aware of these.

If we continue looking at technology, the career potential is incredibly diverse. Every firm nowadays needs some form of tech resource, so whether a pupil is considering a job in fashion, a career in life science or they are undecided as to what they want, technology can really be a foot in the door. Clearly, then part of the education process needs to include an explanation of the fantastic and incredibly varied options a career in tech can bring – not to mention the vast array of fascinating topics that can be studied at school and in college.

In order to do this, schools, tech firms and female role models need to work together to better inspire girls in education by demonstrating just how rewarding a career in tech can be. If we think about how girls – and indeed boys - studying at the moment are inspired, real-life role models are perhaps the most impactful. We were all once – and in many cases still are – influenced by a celebrity or brand name as we learn more about them and its only human nature to mimic others. If we put inspirational female tech talent in front of the next generation of potential employees, at the absolute minimum we’ll be giving girls a more equal footing as they’ll be more aware of their options. But, the ideal outcome would certainly be that we see a whole new raft of females developing a passion for what I believe is a very rewarding career.

The huge number of women that have already joined our Wall of Inspiration is testament to the vast number of females who support this approach. One such individual is Nadine Thomson, UK IT Director for Vue Cinema. A brilliant example of someone who stumbled into the industry having accidently discovered the potential it has for an exciting career, Nadine has gone from strength to strength. Here’s her story:

“I initially went to University to become a Vet. I took computer programming as an elective subject and found it creative and interesting. The Internet and email were new technologies at the time that were gaining popularity and I could see tech was going to change our future. I switched my degree to Computer Science and I have never looked back.”

“I began my IT career in Australia. My first role was data entry and building a database for the Royal Children’s Hospital. I then went on to work in various technical roles before moving into management. I have experience working in a range of industries including Retail & Consumer (Travel, Beverages), Consulting, Education and Financial Services.”

People like Nadine, and the many others behind the campaign, are a real inspiration for future female tech talent and can really help demonstrate the vast array of career opportunities available. With greater collaboration between these individuals, schools and tech firms, I believe we can get more girls passionate about these less ‘female-traditional’ routes of employment and remove the stereotype that technology, and indeed STEM, isn’t for women.

Steve Brown is Director at IT recruitment firm, Empiric and founder of Next Tech Girls

TeenTech holds event to inspire next generation of scientists, technologists and engineers

Over 500 year 8 and year 9 students descended on London’s Olympic Park for the TeenTech City event this week.TeenTech week

200 scientists, technologists and engineers gathered to showcase the rich and fulfilling careers available in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem).

Challenges were set for the students by organisations such as Barclays, BBC, Cisco, National Grid, Atkins, JVC and Samsung.

Speaking at the event, founder of TeenTech, Maggie Philbin said: “There’s a huge amount of young talent all over the UK, and yet a generation still sits in the classroom convinced subjects like maths and physics are irrelevant. TeenTech City captures the imagination of those who at one time would have dismissed a career in science – allowing them to walk away with a real understanding of how they can make a difference to the world of tomorrow.

“We owe a huge amount to the brilliant companies and universities who came together to make today an outstanding catalyst – helping students see how creative and exciting this contemporary industry can be."

Mark Boleat, policy chairman of the City of London Corporation, sponsors of the TeenTech City Event, said: “The capital is really leading the way when it comes to digital innovation, and in particular, financial technology. There are currently more FinTech employees in London and the southeast than the whole of California.

“To maintain our global position as the leading financial centre, it is vital to develop and maintain a high-skilled workforce. Events like this really help educate young people about careers in the technology and science sectors and hopefully inspire them to become the innovators of tomorrow.”

Ms Feione Cooper Art & Design Teacher at The Urswick School said: “Our school first participated in TeenTech in 2011 and ever since we have never looked back. STEM workshops are an opportunity to push the boundaries and create new initiatives in an explorative and exciting way – and the students leave thinking of different ways they can execute ideas collectively.”

The students were surveyed when they arrived at the event, with 57% saying they would consider a career in engineering. At the end of the event this figure had rose to 71%. Only seven per cent said they were considering an apprenticeship after school.

Inspirational Woman: Liz Bonnin | Biochemist, Wild Animal Biologist & Presenter

Liz Bonnin - Inspirational Woman

Liz Bonnin, is a Biochemist, Wild Animal Biologist & Presenter, and is currently a role model for EDF Energy’s #PrettyCurious campaign.

The new programme, launched by EDF Energy, aims to change teenage girls’ perceptions of science and inspire them to pursue science-based careers. EDF Energy has collaborated with Liz and three other role models to help demonstrate to teenage girls the breadth of career opportunities available to them. A short video about these role models can be found here.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and what you do currently

I studied Biochemistry and Wild Animal Biology at University. I fell into television after my first degree and presented entertainment shows like Top of the Pops, but my first love has always been science and I returned to academia to complete a Masters degree.

I then got the chance to combine my passion for science with a new found love for communicating it on television and have worked on all sorts of science and natural history programmes, including Bang Goes the Theory, Horizon, Stargazing Live, Operation Snow Tiger and Super Smart Animals.

I just returned from California, filming a programme about marine wildlife called Big Blue Live and am currently working on a series about animal migrations for BBC1, filming in Canada, Kenya and Botswana. I’m also gearing up for another series of Stargazing Live in January.

I have always been curious about the world around me and dreamed of travelling the world when I was little. My career allows me to meet scientists working at the top of their field and l am constantly learning new things about the natural world. I feel very lucky to be doing what I do.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve always loved science from a young age and knew I wanted to learn about the world around me, but I never really planned exactly how I would achieve that. In fact my career path has changed several times over the years.

After graduating with my Biochemistry degree I took a year out, sang in a band, travelled and then got the chance to present a music show in Ireland which led to me presenting other programmes in the UK. I had a fantastic time, but I missed science and that’s when I decided to go back to school and complete a Masters in Wild Animal Biology and Conservation.

It was only then that it all came together and I got the chance to become a science presenter - communicating what I am passionate about and hopefully inspiring others about the world around them too.

I am a big advocate for not putting yourself under too much pressure to find to perfect career early in life. My advice would be to experiment and to not be afraid to try new things and change your mind. It’s the only way to discover what you love and what’s right for you.

Unfortunately many young girls do become disengaged with STEM subjects

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

Of course I’ve had many challenges along the way - it certainly hasn’t always been easy - but I’ve found that if you believe in something enough and are prepared to work hard for it, you can achieve your dreams. The most important thing is to do what you truly care about and not make money or other factors influence your decision. This will make it so much easier to get out of bed in the morning and to work really hard when you have to. My most rewarding experience was to complete my research project in Nepal when so many things were working against me. But I desperately wanted to work on tiger conservation so dug my heels in and refused to give up. And it was so worth it in the end.

I was lucky to have great support from my family and teachers who encouraged my love for science. Unfortunately many young girls do become disengaged with STEM subjects at some point and currently only one in 7 people in the STEM workforce are female. As a science communicator I feel very strongly about doing my bit to tackle this issue.

I’m currently working with EDF Energy on the #PrettyCurious campaign to try and address the gender imbalance in STEM careers. Research has shown that young girls are just as capable as boys in all the sciences so it’s important to encourage and inspire them to maintain this inherent aptitude and their curiosity for the world around them.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

The nature of my job means that there is rarely a ‘typical day’, which I find exciting. I could be in accompanying scientists as they tag blue whales to learn more about their ecology or at interviewing the NASA engineers who made it possible for the Curiosity Rover to land on Mars. I also have days at my desk, pouring through scientific papers in preparation for the next shoot, and I relish those days too because I get to learn about the latest exciting discoveries and developments in all sort of STEM fields.

The perception of scientists working in a lab 24/7 is so outdated. In my career I have met so many scientists doing incredible things around the globe, pushing boundaries to discover more about this extraordinary planet of ours. Hopefully through the programmes we make we can inspire young people to embark on similar career paths. Scientists are adventurous, creative and passionate people who are often the happiest people I’ve ever met.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

I’ve never really had any official coaching or mentoring but I have been inspired by so many of the scientists I’ve met throughout my life - from my lecturers at University to the scientists I meet when we film. Not only do they inspire me to want to do more to protect the natural world but they’ve also shown me how important it is to be passionate about what you do in life, and to be resilient, determined and hard working, even when the odds are against you.

That’s why I believe that my role as a science communicator is to help to inspire the next generation and why campaigns like #Pretty Curious are great vehicles for this.

What does the future hold for you?

I hope to continue to do what I do for many years to come. I can safely say that I love my job and I know that this is still somewhat a rare thing to say, so I do feel very lucky. I’d like to go back to University again and complete a PhD, and the topic is changing all the time - from field research for tiger conservation to something that can lead to influencing much needed changes in conservation policies at government level. So I am stewing over a couple of ideas but hopefully this is something I can do in the near future.

Ultimately as long as I’m doing something that excites me and challenges me every day, I’m happy.