Role models vital in keeping European girls’ STEM interest alive

Research from Microsoft shows the profound impact role models have on European girls’ interest in STEM – providing new insight to policy-makers, educators, the private sector and non-government organizations (NGOs) to help bridge Europe’s digital skills gap.

April 25, 2018: BRUSSELS – New findings from a study of 11,500 girls and young women aged between 11 and 30 across Europe reveal role models are critical for girls being interested to study and pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

To launch the third installment of its research into why European girls are underrepresented in STEM, Microsoft, in partnership with UNESCO, will bring together educators, policy makers, members of the private sector and NGOs to discuss the issues and identify solutions. This includes how to increase opportunities for girls and young women to meet with and be mentored by STEM role models. Hosted at its Brussels Innovation Center, Microsoft will discuss its findings in the company of similar UNESCO and Accenture reports showing why role models are critical for sustaining girls’ interest in STEM, as well as facilitate a number of sessions, panel debates and demos with influential European STEM role models.

Commissioned by Microsoft, the survey shows the number of girls interested in STEM almost doubles when they have role models (41%) compared to those who do not (26%). Girls with role models are also more passionate about STEM subjects and are 15% more likely able to imagine themselves working in STEM.

“Providing girls and young women with access to STEM role models is just one step in the right direction to dispel gender stereotypes associated with the tech industry as well as get them excited about pursuing a career in technology. In tangible terms, this needs to come from curriculum reform and the right investment decisions that expose more girls and young women in Europe to positive role models and mentors in their STEM fields,” said Sylvie Laffarge, Director of Philanthropies, Europe for Microsoft.

As part of its efforts to promote gender quality and empower girls and women through education, UNESCO released a report last year revealing the gender gap in STEM is not only prevalent in Europe but is a global issue. Moreover, the report found the presence of female role models can enhance girls’ and women’s self-perceptions and attitudes toward STEM, as well as their motivation to pursue STEM careers.

“While more young women are studying in STEM fields than ever before, they only make up just over one-third of STEM students in Europe and globally. We have a long way to go to equality. Social norms and expectations, gender bias and discrimination influence the quality of education girls receive and the subjects they study. Role models, including female teachers, are an important part of retaining the interest, engagement and achievement of girls in these fields.” said Justine Sass, Chief, Section of Education for Inclusion & Gender Equality, UNESCO.

Similarly – with the female share of the US computing workforce estimated to decline rapidly in the next decade – Accenture, in partnership with Girls Who Code, wanted to investigate why this was happening and what could be done to curb this trend. According to its research, girls with an inspiring teacher and someone who encouraged them to pursue the topic were significantly more likely to go into computer science – further establishing the link between role models and girls’ interest in STEM.

“Role models should not be viewed as a single solution, rather an important piece to solving the gender gap in STEM. By combing inspiring female role models with hands-on, practical coding experience that’s fun and relevant to the girls’ aspirations, we can make a dramatic difference in closing Europe’s digital skills  and gender gap – and hopefully do so once and for all,” said Barbara Harvey, Managing Director, Accenture Research


Developing next generation skills

Recognizing the need to equip more people with the right skills for our digital era, Microsoft recently published a book entitled A Cloud for Global Good, which includes policy recommendations for creating a more inclusive cloud-based society – whether that’s getting computer science on curricula, fostering public-private partnerships, or investing in lifelong skills training.

About #MakeWhatsNext: ‘Changing the face of STEM’

A live stream from the Brussels event will be available in the morning here and in the afternoon here. Please see below for an agenda and get involved at a time that suits you!


Opening (10:00 – 10.20am CET)

  • Laura Shields, MD of Red Thread, Former CNN and BBC Journalist
  • Susanna Mäkelä, Senior Director, Microsoft EU Affairs

Part 1 – Diversity and Gender Equality in STEM: The EU Outlook (10.20 – 10.40am CET)

  • Dagmar Schumacher, Director, UNIFEM
  • Sarah Peers, Deputy President, International Network of Women Engineers and Scientists (INWES)
  • Moderated by Laura Shields

Part 2 – The Face of STEM in Europe (10.40 – 11.40am CET)

  • Justine Sass, Chief of the Section of Education for Inclusion and Gender Equality UNESCO
  • Barbara Harvey, Managing Director, Accenture Research
  • Julian Lambertin, Managing Director, KRC Research/Microsoft
  • Moderated by Kathleen Noonan, Director, Philanthropies & Education Communications, Microsoft Europe.

Part 3 – Changing the Face of STEM: The Leak in the Skills Pipeline (11:40 – 12:30 pm CET)

  • Kasia Jurczak, Member of Cabinet of Commissioner
  • Marianne Thyssen, European Commission
  • Kyriakos Koursaris, Innovative Educator, Portugal
  • Line Moseng, Software Developer, Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration
  • Imbi Henno, Chief Expert of General Education, Estonian Ministry of Education,

STEM Working Group

  • Moderated by Laura Shields

Part 4 – Hacking STEM: Live STEM Experiment (13:45 – 15:00pm CET)

  • Interactive STEM demos. How to enhance current STEM curriculum and bring real-world scenarios into the classroom
  • Moderated by Karon Weber, Director of Hacking STEM, Microsoft

Part 5 | Creative STEM Career Pathways (15:15 – 16:15 pm CET)

  • Nataliya Kosmyna, AI and Human Intelligence Expert
  • Shwetal Shah, Head of Global Partnerships and Outreach at ‘Erase All Kittens’
  • Flavia Oprea, Computer Science engineer and Co-founder of ENTy
  • Shannon McDaniel, Director of Data Strategy for the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy Closing
  • Moderated by Jeff Bullwinkel, Associate General Counsel and Director of Corporate, External and Legal Affairs, Microsoft Europe

About Microsoft
Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) is the leading platform and productivity company for the mobile-first, cloud-first world, and its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which has been entrusted to lead the Global Education 2030 Agenda to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Note to editors: For more information, news and perspectives from Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft News Center Europe at Web links, telephone numbers and titles were correct at time of publication but may have changed. For additional assistance, journalists and analysts may contact Microsoft’s Rapid Response Team or other appropriate contacts listed at

Media contacts

Kathleen Noonan, Director, Philanthropies & Education Communications, Microsoft Europe

[email protected]

Sabina Gockel, Senior Communications Manager, Corporate, External and Legal Affairs (CELA), Microsoft EMEA

[email protected]


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