The Importance of Female Role Models in STEM

Sophie DenhamSophie Denham is a Senior Engineering Manager in Technical Project Management for Shark Robotics. She is incredibly grateful for the opportunities her career in Design has given her, enabling her to work at world-leading companies and study abroad.

She puts much of this down to the incredible female role models she has been lucky to have around her. Here she discusses her experiences and why she jumped at the chance to get involved in SharkNinja’s WeLead programme, an innovative global support network for women across the company, as well as education and entry avenues into STEM through joint ventures with universities and schools.

For most of my childhood, I had my heart set on joining the Police Force, but also knew I wanted to go to University first. During secondary school, I studied Product Design and was fortunate enough to have a truly inspiring Product Design teacher, who had built the department up using the very latest technologies in 3D printing and had worked in the industry for years before turning to teaching. This meant I was exposed to what Product Design was, both as an industry and what it could mean as a career, whereas in most other subjects, it was difficult for me to perceive how they would be used in real life. I loved the ability to combine maths, physics and creativity to produce products that people actually wanted and needed, so felt this was the perfect degree for me. I studied BSc in Product Design at Brunel University - it was rigorous and demanding and I could genuinely see myself pursuing a career in design if it weren’t for my dream of joining the Police. Yet upon graduation, I didn’t even look at Police recruitment. By the end of those four years, I realised how much I had loved my course and the real insights I had given me into the worlds of design, engineering and technology.

So, I began my career as a Design Engineer with Dyson and following that, moved to Auckland to work for a medical company Fisher & Paykel Healthcare. Here I specialised in consumer research and front- end design, taking a leading role in running global clinical trials on an innovative new technology to treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Across these two roles I was involved in designing technology leading to three patents, which is a great achievement for any designer. I then joined SharkNinja when I returned to the UK, first as a Design Engineer before transitioning into Technical Project Management.

After over two years working in the Ninja category, I left the company to pursue another interest, joining a small startup in London that makes hardware and software to empower young people to learn to code in a creative environment. Here, I learned a vast amount about software development, becoming a qualified Scrum Master as well as taking a leading role in restructuring the manufacturing division of the company.

Earlier this year, I then rejoined SharkNinja to begin an exciting new challenge within the Robots division, combining my experiences in hardware and software as Senior Engineering Manager, Technical Project Management. In this role, I am responsible for ensuring the products within this Robots category are delivered to the requirements set by both the consumers and the business, by ensuring collaboration and cohesion across the different teams within the global Robots division.

I am truly thankful for the opportunities my career in Design has given me, enabling me to work at world-leading companies and study abroad. Much of this I put down to the incredible role models I was fortunate enough to have in school, university and workplaces. As a woman in STEM, it is especially important to have these role models, yet shockingly, only 22% of students are able to name a famous female working in technology. Having spent much of my career being the only female within an engineering team, I am so grateful to the incredible support network of female mentors and colleagues who have guided me along the way. With their support; whether that has been highlighting when I’ve done something really well, or given me a gentle (or not so gentle) nudge when I have made errors in work or judgement, I have grown from being a timid, quiet member of the team to someone who feels confident speaking out. Without these incredible female role models, I fear I would still be the quiet mouse of the team, afraid to speak out when I have ideas.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to get involved in SharkNinja’s WeLead programme. This is an amazing initiative which provides a global support network for women across the company, as well as education and entry avenues into STEM through joint ventures with universities and schools. Naturally, this is something I wanted to be a part of; to connect with the wealth of talented, strong women at SharkNinja, both to offer my support to others and to continue to support myself.

SharkNinja has such an array of female talent and having the chance to expose that talent to girls and women who may not have considered a career in STEM is also hugely important to me. Throughout my life I have been passionate about exposing more school aged children, particularly girls, to our industry, by tutoring STEM subjects through to A-level and speaking in schools about what real jobs look like within STEM. WeLead gives me an incredible platform to continue this at SharkNinja.

The importance of female role models in STEM is unparalleled and I am so happy to be working for a company which recognises and actively promotes this. The future is bright for women in tech.


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1,000 young women to be inspired by tech role models at WOW Talks//Women in Tech event

1,000 young women are set to be inspired by technology role models in an event organised by WOW Talks.

WOW Talks Logo - tech role modelsWith the support of Accenture and in partnership with Next Tech Girls the WOW Talks//Women in Tech will take place on 20 September at the Royal Geographical Society.

Women working within the tech sector will offer tips, advice and their own experiences of the industry, in addition to afternoon sessions tailored for secondary school students 14-16) and an evening event for university-aged students and young women already in the workforce (18-25).

Interactive workshops and the opportunity to demo new technologies will also be available.

Kim Arazi, CEO of WOW Talks, said: “We are excited to be hosting our very first Women in Tech event, which aims to change girls' perceptions about science and technology being a male-dominated field, and demonstrate how tech can be used as a game-changing tool across all industries.

“We want them to see that there is a place for all kinds of interests, talents and skills in the world of technology.”

“We specifically chose this topic for our first flagship event as we feel very strongly about closing the gender gap in tech and think that one of the most effective ways to do this is by having inspiring women (in tech) share their personal stories...their WHY. We are also delighted to have Accenture on board as a Gold Sponsor, showing their commitment to diversity and women in tech.”

Arabel Bailey, Managing Director for Accenture Digital in the UK & Ireland, said: “It’s critical that girls and young women are encouraged and inspired about the vast array of exciting opportunities available to them through a career in technology. By addressing the gender imbalance in the tech industry, we can help to ensure that the UK has the right skills in place to drive economic success.”

Steve Brown, Director of Empiric and Founder of Next Tech Girls, said: “1.46 million people are employed within the technology sector in the UK, but only 17% of them are women. If we, as a profession, are to tackle current and future skills gaps created by the meteoritic rise of automation and digital communications, it is crucial that organisations work together to tap into female talent pools before they are tainted by negative and narrow connotations surrounding what a career in technology looks like.”

“Whether a student’s passion is law, art or fashion, digital will be integral to a career in their chosen discipline. Next Tech Girls is incredibly proud to be lead partner on this ground-breaking event. I have no doubt that the 1,000 young women who will attend on the day will leave inspired by the stories of the incredible role models who will be joining us.”