Established by the United Nations in 2015 the 11 February of each year is proclaimed the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The focus of the day is to recognise the critical role women and girls play in science and technology communities but to also address the gender gap in women and girl’s participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines all over the world.
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To support the day, to celebrate the role of women in STEM disciplines and examine the key issues we asked leading CIHT STEM Ambassadors the key questions we as a sector need answered.
What should be done to increase the percentage of women and girl students selecting STEM-related fields in higher education?
What should highways and transportation organisations do to encourage women to join the sector?
What should highways and transportation organisations do to achieve gender equity in the workplace?
Laura Menendez Gonzalez, Senior Engineer, WSP: Read their full response here
Daisy Atkin, Transport Planner, AWP: Read their full response here
Joanna Lyon, Group Director, WSP: Read their full response here
Hazel Fraser, Director, The Training Folk Ltd: Read their full response here
Tanya Preston, Civil Engineer & Technical Copywriter, Engineered Copy: Read their full response here
The need to change perceptions and remove stereotypes at school
“It is as important to educate and challenge the schools themselves, as well as challenging the students in how they perceive STEM subjects.” Daisy Atkin
“I think it’s vitally important to focus STEM work on primary aged children and inspire them from a younger age. At the moment, much of the work being done to highlight STEM careers is carried out at the secondary school level. However, often by this age the students have decided what their strengths or interests are and capturing their imagination is much more difficult. With younger children, we have an opportunity to not just inspire them, but also to make STEM subjects appealing to everyone – not just the students who feel they are “good at maths” or other STEM areas.” Tanya Preston
“We need to challenge ourselves to think past our own past experiences to ensure that we treat genders equally and provide opportunities, comments and rewards that enable all children to grow, learn and develop as people.” Joanna Lyon
“Myth busting. I think that most girls think that STEM are the boring subjects. Even though there have been huge efforts made to make STEM subjects known, there is still the thought that they are the boys subjects. On many STEM events that I have attended, the speakers/presenters are predominantly male. We need to get female colleagues to take more interest in taking part in these events to promote careers in STEM for girls.” Hazel Fraser
Promote the multiple routes into the sector
Promote the breath of skills and transferrable skills
“We need to highlight the vast range of skills that the highways and transportation sector helps women build and develop. A highways project requires technical knowledge, but it also requires many other skills, such as problem-solving, communication, coordination, team-building, project management, quality assurance, HSE, and commercial.” Tanya Preston
Understand the impact of language
“We need to recognise that the way we word our recruitment adverts can appeal differently to men and women. Words like ‘expert’, ‘leading’, ‘superior’ and ‘world class’ are less likely to attract women who tend to be more collaborative than competitive.” Joanna Lyon
“Females like to support and help, so wouldn't it make sense to explain some of the career paths in those more appealing terms? For example, I am a senior engineer working on road maintenance. Doesn't sound like the most exciting of things, but the way I see it what I do helps people get together, by improving the road network, people can drive safely to see family or visit friends. Children can go to school. Deliveries can take place in hospitals.” Laura Menendez Gonzalez
Broaden the appeal of roles
“Long lists of role requirements can also lead women to rule themselves out. Studies have shown that while men will apply for a job if they meet around 60% of the requirements, women only apply if they feel that they meet all of them. Particularly when seeking graduates, who will always need workplace training, limiting the criteria and instead listing the training and support that will be given can help increase levels of female interest in the role.” Joanna Lyon
“The range of projects available to work on is also varied – you can quickly be responsible for your own improvement schemes, or work as part of a team on large reconstruction or new build projects. I feel this is unique to highways in contrast to other areas of civil engineering, where often engineers are specialists with no other responsibilities beyond their design work. In highways and transportation, you can become truly multi-skilled and develop knowledge across many different areas. In addition, the opportunities for progression are excellent.” Tanya Preston
Genuine activities to enhance the visibility of women in the sector rather than PR gestures
“First-hand accounts can bring to life a career option. We need to reassure women that they will be valued. By providing role models that demonstrate success across diverse gender and ethnic backgrounds, we can help potential recruits to visualise themselves having a successful career in highways and transportation.” Joanna Lyon
Mentors and support networks within the organization and sector as a whole
Adopt flexible working practices
Address the impact of the pandemic so gender gap does not worsen
“It’s particularly difficult to challenge these assumptions within the current pandemic restrictions, where graduating students don’t have a chance to visit companies in person and meet with current employees. We know that women will avoid applying for jobs where they worry they won’t fit in, or if it is perceived to be male-dominated.” Joanna Lyon
Enable open, safe and fair communication within the organization
The importance of organisations to encourage female staff members to become STEM Ambassadors
The importance of STEM Ambassadors and need for a greater presence of female STEM Ambassadors
“I cannot stress the importance of bringing female STEM Ambassadors into schools, to show girls in a very tangible and relatable way, that STEM careers are absolutely open to them and that there are so many ways of entering a STEM career; not just through the academic route of a university degree, but through apprenticeships etc. We have to make STEM fully accessible for girls and young women, and remove those barriers right from the start.” Daisy Atkin