People Like Me
Without doubt we know that there is a dramatic decline in STEM engagement during secondary school. Research from King’s College London, has shown that, among pupils aged 10–11 coming in from primary school, 75% of boys and 72% of girls state that they are interested in science and enjoy it. While this is good news, the numbers decrease dramatically during secondary school, especially for girls. As a result, this means that six years later, when pupils are starting their A-levels, only 19% of girls take two STEM subjects, and far fewer study Physics.
Not surprisingly, the numbers who then go on to study Electronics at university are even lower. UCAS data (quoted in The State of Engineering 2016 report by Engineering UK) shows that only 540 females accepted places on Electrical and Electronic Engineering degrees last year, representing only 11% of all students. We also know from The IET (2015 Skills Survey) that only 6% of the engineering workforce in the Electronics sector is female; this compares unfavourably with most other sectors. As a consequence, the huge gender imbalance in the Electronics sector isn’t going to be fixed in the short term.
It was the causes of these systematic issues that Prof Averil MacDonald considered in her ground-breaking report ‘Not for People Like Me’ and led The WISE Campaign to launch People Like Me (PLM) in September 2015 as a fresh, new way to encourage girls aged 11–14 to take a greater interest in STEM at school and to consider the related career options. I attended the WISE launch event for PLM and it made me wonder if we could to something specific for the Electronics sector.
Fast forward six months and I’m delighted that our own resource pack is now online. On 11 April, I found myself sitting in a meeting room at Leonardo (one of the five companies who provided role models and support for the project) in Luton with 20 female delegates, learning from WISE how to use the PLM resource pack. Their reaction to the PLM approach was both heartening and highly encouraging, one remarked, “The lack of women in STEM has long been something I’ve been very passionate about, ever since I started Computer Science A-Level and wondered where all the other girls were! I particularly liked the way the personality adjectives chart showed how easily those traits could be transferred into a STEM career and how they would be useful.”
Only time will tell how effective the PLM approach will be and I know that tackling this challenge will require much wider concerted efforts. However, getting more girls to identify themselves with roles in Electronics – as PLM encourages them do – must surely be a good start?