How to inspire women to get into STEM

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On March 8, the world will celebrate International Women’s Day. This year, the theme is #EachforEqual, encouraging people to challenge stereotypes, fight bias and celebrate women’s achievements.

For example, if you asked your child to draw a programmer, who would they draw? According to several studies, girls ae twice as likely to draw men as they are to draw women, while boys almost universally draw men.

Incidentally, these children’s drawings are not too far from reality. Although the number of female students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields is steadily growing, girls still make up only 26 per cent. A similar situation can be observed in the workforce – only 22 per cent of women work in STEM fields.

Ruby Gonzalez, head of communications at NordVPN, said: “The stereotype that a job in technology is only for men still persists, however, we are happy that more and more women are getting into this field.

“Women are incredibly creative, patient, detail-oriented, and empathetic. They’re also fantastic communicators, all of which are vital skills for the tech industry. Don’t forget that there are many different jobs in STEM fields, too. Products need to be designed, made, marketed and sold – there’s so much more than writing code.”

So what is it about technology that excites Ruby personally? She explained: “It’s the impact. I get to work with a product that reaches millions of people globally. It is also a product that aspires to liberate the internet, which is something I truly believe in. Also, working in technology, I get to see all the excitement it brings as it’s such a rapidly evolving sphere.”

However, whilst changing job fields can be exciting, it’s also very daunting. To help out women who want to get into STEM, Ruby shared some useful tips from her own experience:

1. Talk to women who already work in STEM. How did they get to where they are? You’d be surprised how many of them planned to become lawyers or politicians, but have retrained to work in STEM.

2. Talk to your manager or HR. Does your workplace offer any initiatives for you to get involved? Today, many companies invest a lot of money in employee training and retraining. Several studies have shown that it is more cost-effective to retrain an employee than to hire a new one.

3. Research training and initiatives. Thanks to the idea of lifelong learning, there are now countless evening or weekend classes. You might also want to research mentoring programmes, such as Million Women Mentors (MWM). Maybe someone you already know could serve as your mentor, someone you admire professionally or a successful friend?

Younger girls are important, too. According to Ruby, it’s very important to inspire the next generation:

1. Real-life models are important. Children look up to their idols. They need to be taught about women figures that they can relate to. Young girls also need to understand that STEM skills don’t make them less ‘cool’ or ‘pretty’. For example, supermodel Karlie Kloss knows how to code and has launched a girls’ training camp called ‘Kode with Klossy’. That doesn’t keep her from appearing in the world’s biggest fashion shows.

2. Explaining the opportunity. Don’t just say that there are ‘career opportunities’ in STEM – children don’t understand that. Explain how technology can change and shape the future. Tickle their imagination in creative ways. For example, machines that build human organs might sound far-fetched now, but the chance to build one might just pique a young girl’s interest.

3. Nothing beats the hands-on approach. There are many classes, online courses and competitions that offer children the opportunity to put their ideas into practice. Such activities could make the role of an engineer or a programmer more approachable and relatable.