Engineer showing equipment to a female apprentice, women in STEM

How funding and support through Fellowships are helping nurture women in STEM

Engineer showing equipment to a female apprentice, women in STEM

Article by Helen Harris, Fellowship Programme Manager at the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851

While many sectors of the UK economy are making great strides in the name of gender equality and equal opportunity, the tech sector can seem to remain stubborn and elusive for many highly skilled women.

Current estimates suggest that only 22% of tech directors are women, and this is definitely not through lack of talent, but almost exclusively down to lack of opportunity. Despite women achieving undergraduate degrees at higher rates than men, many women are leaving universities and finding it a difficult and daunting task to pursue business success in tech industries. But many avenues are available to entrepreneurial women in this position to provide the opportunities necessary for success, and a particularly advantageous avenue is fellowships.

Each fellowship programme is different, and each organisation offering them has its own specialisms and idiosyncrasies. Across the UK a number of organisations providing fellowships are fostering one of the most supportive research environments in the world, from Research Fellowships provided by the Royal Academy of Engineering to Health and Social Science grants provided by the Wellcome Trust. Here, I would like to focus on fellowships offered by an organisation I am close to, the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851. Fellowships offer a two-pronged approach to providing opportunities to those who can demonstrate the right characteristics of tenacity, business acumen and technological know-how. These prongs are funding and networking, and when brought together can provide the well-deserved leg-up required to achieve success in this male-dominated field.

Funding

Funding is fundamental to the success of any project. Whether you have a brilliant business idea or an ingenious scientific theory to trial their viability you first need financial backing. The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 offers financial support to graduates through a number of Fellowships aimed at entrepreneurs, researchers, engineers, designers and more. Through this a number of exciting tech ventures have been nurtured and the careers of many trailblazing women in STEM have been fostered. Among the alumni of the Industrial Fellowship programme you can find the likes of Dr Sarah Ridley, The Engineer’s champion of International Women’s Day 2021. Fellowship funding allowed Dr Ridley to earn a PhD whilst continuing to work at her job, now as Project Director for Autocraft Solutions Group she also acts as a STEM ambassador encouraging more women and girls to enter this industry.

Networking

A fellowship is often seen as a programme with a finite end and limits in its scope, but as they are often attached to larger academic and industrial bodies the doors they open are truly invaluable. The Commission’s fellowships enable graduates to become part of an alumni network that stretches widely in breadth and spans several generations, especially as it was set up over 170 years ago! The connections available to these awardees cannot be understated and collaborative working off the back of this often leads to the development of new and previously untapped trains of thought. The Commission boasts over 900 distinguished alumni in its network and previous fellows have included 13 Nobel Prize laureates.

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For aspiring researchers, a fellowship can represent the first step on a truly unexpected career path, with the ultimate goal of making great contributions and discoveries within a cutting-edge field. Dr Beth Mortimer, for example, completed her Research Fellowship with the Commission in 2019 which investigated how vibrational communication exists across nature. Throughout her fellowship she raised a further £830k of research funding and spoke at the TED Women conference in 2018. Now Dr Mortimer is using her specialism in vibrational communication in nature to develop bioinspired technologies for use in robotics.

Attempting to break into a male-dominated field can often feel intimidating and isolating, particularly for young women only at the beginning of their careers. Having the support provided by a fellowship programme can be a great source of confidence and advice needed to reach your inner potential. This culture of support, together with a world-class alumni network, brings fellows face-to-face with leading figures within their industries who can act as role models, which will be key for early career development.

Recent Enterprise Fellows have included design engineer Natalie Kerres who was supported by the Commission to further her biomimetic injury prevention tech start-up SCALED. Through funding, networking and mentoring opportunities Miss Kerres has established a successful business off the back of her own technological research.

Striving for success in STEM sectors is an aspiration for large numbers of young women up and down the country, but without the necessary structures and opportunities that aspiration can remain unrecognised and unfulfilled. Fellowships offer young people a life-changing opportunity to further their own careers and pursue scientific and technological brilliance. Even just this year Industrial Fellowships were awarded to women researching practical solutions to further diabetes research, shrink satellite technology, and accelerate the production of complex next generation therapeutics. Fellowships represent the ultimate level playing field in an industry trying to shake off a history of male-centric thinking, but have the potential to redress the gender imbalance by supporting the next generation of female innovators and entrepreneurs.

Fellowship opportunities are out there and fresh thinking from a broader range of female applications is definitively what is needed to level up the careers of ambitious women and take UK research to even greater heights.

For more information about Fellowships from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 go to: https://royalcommission1851.org/.


women in tech, soft skills featured

How to support women working in technology

Article by Nimira Kassam, HR Director at Esendex

women in tech, soft skillsAccording to Wise Campaign, 2019 saw the number of women working in STEM roles in the UK reach one million, with over 50,000 of them working in the engineering sector.

This is a fantastic achievement and something I'm very proud to play a part in as my role as HR Director for one of the UK’s largest B2B telecommunications companies, Esendex.

Over recent years there has certainly been an increase in the number of women opting for a career in STEM, but working for a technology company myself, there’s no denying that the discipline is still heavily biased to men.

Some call it diversity and inclusion, others equality, but whatever the terminology, we need to ask ourselves what we actually mean by these terms. Concerningly, they seem to be becoming new buzz words in the workplace and so, to hold meaningful value, we must strive to make them more than just words. Organisations need to understand the true impact of diversity and inclusion. Diversity drives innovation which is the key to success in the dynamic technology sector. Diverse organisations must ensure that their cultures allow people to flourish and grow in order to be successful.

Specifically focusing on gender diversity, it is evident that females are underrepresented in the technology sector. While it’s great to hear that more companies are starting to take gender diversity seriously, we are still seeing slow progress and more needs to be done. In fact, according to Women in STEM just 35% of students studying a STEM subject at UK universities are female. This will consequently have a knock on effect to the number of women applying for STEM related jobs post graduation. And so begins the circle of women being outnumbered by men in STEM workforces.

There are many obstacles to overcome and progress a career, and this is true regardless of the sector or gender. However, working as a woman in the technology industry does present some unique challenges and as I reflect upon my own journey, there are some key actions I took that have helped me along the way.

The power of networking

Firstly, I have always ensured that I make the time to network both within and outside of my organisation. Networking can be daunting for some and also time consuming in a world where we already have so many demands placed upon us. However, the investment I made in building a support network that I can turn to when required, has proved invaluable. Internal networking is also important and having trusted sponsors that can check and challenge your thinking helps you to improve not only your ideas but also confidence in expressing them.

When preparing your CV, ask someone from your network to review this for you. At the beginning of my career, I tended to downplay my achievements and instead refer to a list of responsibilities. Being modest is an appealing attribute, but this should not be at the expense of being confident and openly proud about your successes. I’d recommend having a trusted confidant, who you respect and then believe their feedback, even if it makes you feel slightly uncomfortable. It is often when we’re outside of our comfort zone that we can truly grow.

Don’t be controlled by imposter syndrome

Secondly do not let imposter syndrome control you. I have personally suffered from this in the past and I’m not alone, with HR News reporting that 6 out of 10 women suffer from imposter syndrome in the UK today.

Early on in my career I applied for an internal role, a week later having not heard back, I asked the recruiting manager for some constructive feedback on how I could do better next time. He asked me what made me think I had not been successful, and surprised me with a job offer. On another occasion I applied for a position with the intention of using it as interview experience with no expectation of ever securing the job. I was overwhelmed when offered the role and yet I still believed I was not experienced enough, despite having beaten all other candidates and been selected as the most experienced and suitable person by my interviewers. The lesson learnt here was to always push yourself and you never know, you may just surprise yourself.

Be true to yourself

Finally, always be true to your own values and ensure that you make time for your own career development. As mentioned previously, it is a great attribute to be collaborative and invest time in others who need you. However, it is so important that you make time for yourself, your goals and your ambitions as this is key to being successful. Make sure you attend events and give yourself opportunities to grow and develop. Seek out the latest trends in your industry and look to upskill yourself in these areas. Most careers in STEM are fast-paced, which is part of what makes these sectors so exciting, but it also offers so many opportunities for advancement - stay ahead of the game and be ready, skilled and experienced when the next step on your career ladder presents itself.

Today I am HR Director at leading technology company Esendex, a position I am proud to hold, not just for the opportunity to further enhance my own career but to also begin to change the diversity of C-suites across the country. With just 28% of positions on C-suites being held by a female across the UK, I'm proud to be part of the change and I hope, in some format, to help clear a path for future women in STEM to follow a similar career trajectory.

Now more than ever the role of HR is to educate leaders and managers to understand the value that embracing diversity can bring. Organisational cultures need to evolve to ensure they listen to and recognise the contribution from all colleagues no matter their gender, confidence levels, race or character profile. While we still have a long way to go before we can say that we have equal representation in STEM careers, I feel confident and encouraged that we will get there, and one day women will be equally represented in STEM businesses across the globe.


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