How to light a spark in every
child with STEM potential

By Alison Bawn - People Director, Virgin Media Business

Almost 90% of people are biased against women.

In the same month we celebrate International Women’s Day, that was the shocking headline stat in a UN Development Programme (UNDP) report.

Studies like this one sadly show how far we are from achieving the goal of International Women’s Day: to eliminate discrimination against women across the world.

Thankfully, however, there are plenty of people trying to move things forward.

People like Tracy-Jane Cassidy.

Only 35% of UK STEM students in higher education are women, according to UCAS data – exactly the kind of figure Tracy-Jane wants to change.

She was one of our winners at VOOM 2018: a start-up pitching competition run by Virgin Media Business where £1 million in prizes is up for grabs. 

Her company, Junior Einsteins Science Club, runs a range of events to help children see science in a new way. Tapping into their natural curiosity. Harnessing their creativity. Making science feel more accessible and – most importantly – fun.

“So much fun they don’t even realise they’re learning,” as Tracey-Jane puts it.

This kind of intervention at a young age, she argues, is essential if we want more diverse STEM industries in future.  “It’s about equality,” she says. “Giving boys and girls from all backgrounds the same opportunities.”

As anyone who heard me speak at last year’s Women in Business NI Awards will know, I couldn’t agree more.

The latest figures from The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggest children’s career aspirations are already limited by the age of seven, and many young people will only consider jobs already familiar to them. According to the report, for girls from poorer backgrounds this often means careers in lower skilled industries such as retail or hospitality.

People can, and do, build fulfilling, creative and entrepreneurial careers in hairdressing and retail. But if we want more diversity in STEM, we have to reach people who’ve never been exposed to or even thought about a STEM career.

And we all have a role to play in that.

Mentorship schemes like our partnership with Women in Business are essential. Even at an early age, having access to a relatable female role model can give girls the confidence and motivation to pursue a path they otherwise wouldn’t. It’s a powerful approach, and I’m incredibly proud that Women in Business has chosen to continue our partnership in 2020.

To really make an impact, however, we need proper collaboration from every angle.

Education, business and government must work together to tackle this issue, giving children from all backgrounds the support and opportunities they need from the classroom all the way to the boardroom.

But as that UNDP study shows, all of us have got our work cut out.

So this International Women’s Day, let’s embrace the #EachforEqual theme and do whatever we can to forge a gender equal world.

And who knows? Maybe, one day, articles like this won’t be necessary. 

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