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How to encourage more women to get into STEM

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.

Parents

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.

Schools

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.

Businesses

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.


Laura Hutton featured

Inspirational Woman: Laura Hutton | Co-Founder & Head of Fraud & Financial Markets, Quantexa

 

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.

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

I help the world’s largest organisations to drive more intelligence out of their vast data assets. My role is to innovate, using cutting edge analytical techniques to develop new solutions to business-critical problems.

I have helped banks fight and financial crime for over a decade through the use of sophisticated analytics and I’m passionate about the power data can provide to create a good society. In the wake of the 2008 Jérôme Kerviel rogue trading scandal, I built the solution that Société Générale subsequently implemented to prevent unauthorized trading.

In 2016, I took a huge jump and founded Quantexa with a team of six colleagues, with a global mission to empower large, international companies to truly understand their customer networks. By understanding such networks, they can fully understand who they are doing business with in turn prevent fraud, money laundering, rogue trading, terrorist financing and human trafficking. Two years later, we have enabled 13 of the world’s biggest institutions (including bank, insurers and oil and gas companies) onto our technology and are growing internationally at an unprecedented level with offices in Sydney, New York, Brussels and Boston.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I am a planner by nature, I like to know where I’m going and what I’m trying to achieve. However, as the only girl in my year to study further A-Level maths, and one of just three women in my intake at Durham University to complete a masters in maths, I was shocked by the fact that there was no clear path for me to go down to achieve my goals.

At university, the options presented to me were the same and uninspiring, with teaching being the default suggestion rather than any positions that allowed me to innovate and to develop technology itself. I am always so proud that I was confident enough to walk my own path and pursued my dream of using my mathematical brain to create new things.

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

One of my biggest challenges has always been my own desire to do something new, something interesting. I am an innovator at heart, yet I know that I must always balance that up with the needs of the businesses I have worked for and now run. I have become more aware of where my skills lie and have therefore been able to craft roles that best suit me. In doing so, my input and value to the business has grown significantly.

Interestingly, being an innovator within technology has led me in to a role that isn’t commonplace for women. It is a very male dominated environment, and at times, it’s been a fight for my voice to be heard. When I was 26, I built a world-first solution that would detect rogue trading, but when I was presenting my work to prospective customers, it was difficult to get ‘air-time’. I didn’t fit the typical mould of someone in investment banking, never mind, someone offering a new technology solution! In the early days, I brought an older gentleman with me, just to get in the door. This, as you can imagine, was incredibly frustrating but I learnt that knowledge would shine through, and in time, I became recognised as the leader in that space.

I strongly believe that if you face challenges with adversity, you will become a stronger person inside and outside of work. What I have learnt about myself more recently, is that I am at my best when I am challenged. It’s when I come up with the best solutions!

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

When I talk to young girls about where they envisage their future career, they are often held back by the same belief that a career in science or technology isn’t for them because they are female. Is this a lack of confidence and because they don’t believe they are equipped with the right skills? Or it is a lack of desire to work in a male-dominated environment? I’m not sure.

I don’t want girls to not reach for their goals and fulfil their aspirations because they’re nervous the company or even sector is too geared towards men. I am proud to have co-founded a successful technology business, I took a risk and it’s paying off.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Mentoring is absolutely critical for everyone’s career development, no matter what sector you’re in. Speaking to someone to get advice on how to best reach your full potential will always give you the confidence to strive to achieve your absolute best, making you aware of opportunities that you may have not considered or even been aware of. The young women at Quantexa have all been on different journeys and all possess different skills which puts them in great stead to become mentors for young and aspiring girls who want to work in I.T. I aim to be a role model to them and indeed, others; it really is possible to be a woman with a young family in technology and to be leading the way in innovation.

I didn’t have a female mentor to guide me when I was younger which is probably symptomatic of a shortage of these. Yet over the years, I have developed a network of like-minded women from lots of different industries who guide me through challenges and with whom I can celebrate successes.

How would you encourage more women and girls to pursue a career in STEM?

The problem lies in the lack of awareness of the opportunities that are available for these young girls who want to pursue a career in STEM. It’s imperative that schools target jobs to everyone, ridding the classroom of the stereotype of the male scientist, data scientist or physician. Many girls finally realise that they are capable of pursuing these jobs whilst heading to university, when it’s often too late.

Work experience is vital, so I’d encourage businesses to launch work experience schemes for young girls aged 16/17 to make them aware of the career opportunities open to them and to have the chance to meet leading women in the industries they are passionate about. At Quantexa, we are launching a work experience program for teenage girls aged 16 and 17 to learn first hand how exciting it is to work in I.T. Hopefully, this will inspire these girls to pursue a role in I.T. because they’re passionate about it, rather than dismissing it because it’s ‘too male dominated’.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Without a doubt, my biggest achievement to date is following my dream and starting Quantexa, leaving a position of stability and comfort. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a planner at heart and this was a huge risk to take; my plan was entirely thrown out of the window! Nevertheless, with such a great team of fellow founders with a passion for our solution, it was the best decision I have ever made. Within two years, we have a team of over 95 people, who each have a personal story and journey around what brought them to Quantexa and I have no doubt that we have a collection of future CEOs and CTOs sitting among us.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I want to become a role model for women in technology and STEM. I’ve been fortunate enough to challenge myself every day, have a great and varied career; creating and implementing innovative solutions, leading global teams and pursuing my ultimate dream: creating my own company. I want to inspire girls to get into STEM, I.T. and technology and for them to know that they are not held back because of their gender, they are empowered by it.