By Sylvie Laffarge, Director of Philanthropies Europe
Ada Lovelace created the first computer algorithm. Maria Telkes developed the first solar-powered heated house. Zaha Hadid revolutionised 21st century architecture. These were all women whose contributions to science, engineering and architecture can still be felt today.
This International Women’s Day (IWD), we want to shine a light on their contributions to humanity. Historically, the work of pioneering women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) related fields has been too often overlooked. In the present day, it’s also clear that the under-representation of women in STEM means that there are fewer role models for young girls. That’s why we need to do more to champion women in STEM, past and present.
Role models can have a dramatic influence on whether or not young women pursue STEM subjects in school and STEM related careers. In fact, research 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 one of the STEM disciplines. There’s a lot of work to do in the region to help address this issue. Consider: Europe’s girls are 50% more likely than girls in the US to picture a man first when they think of a STEM professional like a scientist or engineer.
The IWD’s campaign theme this year of #BalanceforBetter invites women and men alike to think about ways in which we can advance gender equality across the world. The issue of equal female representation in technology is seen internationally and with the growth of focus on AI, the issue has become even more pronounced. In the US, only 28% of high school students who take the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam are girls. Across 35 European countries, fewer than 1 in 5 computer science graduates are women.
Why does this matter? If the people working in technology-related fields are not representative of the people in our communities, the solutions they develop will not be representative either.
Providing girls and young women with access to STEM role models is a powerful step in the right direction to dispel gender stereotypes and get girls excited about the opportunities the technology sector offers.
Starting today we will host a series of #MakeWhatsNext events in Europe, the Middle East and Africa to encourage girls to build technology skills and meet ‘real’ women with highly rewarding careers in tech. These events are designed to introduce girls to the career opportunities in the tech industry and let them get hands-on with technology.
It is great to see recent Hollywood movies portraying female STEM characters like in Hidden Figures – that tells the story of the brilliant women at NASA who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit. However, I believe that we as everyday people working in this industry have a responsibility to foster enthusiasm for STEM subjects among the next generation of women.
Ada, Maria, and, Zaha might be some of the most well-known female inventors and creators to emerge from our regions, but they weren’t the first – and they won’t be the last. If you are looking for a fun way to teach girls about female heroes and get them engaged with STEM, download the free #MakeWhatsNext Heads Up game and instructions below. Let’s make female role models more visible!