Solving the STEM skills challenge together

BP’s women’s network in Canary Wharf, London and Deutsche Bank’s gender diversity and inclusion network recently hosted an inspirational event for employees and local students with the theme “Finding the formula – solving the STEM skills challenge together”

Explaining the background to the event, Camille Drummond, chair of BP’s women network in Canary Wharf commented, “BP, along with many other organisations depends on people with a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). The STEM industries are crucial for economic growth and competitiveness, but the UK is experiencing a skills gap due to a lack of people with appropriate STEM qualifications. Both companies are committed to improving pathways to STEM education and careers and in light of our existing relationship, we felt it was an ideal topic for collaboration.”

An engaging line-up of panellists at the event included Eileen Taylor, CEO of Deutsche Bank UK; Professor Louise Archer from King’s College London; Miriam Franklin, director of personal development at Mulberry School for Girls; Anne-Marie Imafidon, co-founder of STEMettes; Kathryn Parsons, co-founder and co-CEO of DeCoded and Alan Haywood, BP’s group treasurer.

Professor Louise Archer shared some interesting research insights into young people’s attitudes towards science, explaining the key factor affecting the likelihood of a student aspiring to a science-related career is the amount of ‘science capital’ they have – that is, their science-related qualifications, their interest in science and how it works and knowing someone in a science-related job.

Professor Archer also explained how there’s a strong relationship between attitudes and aspirations towards science. Research findings indicate that the vast majority of students like ‘doing’ science, but most do not want to ‘be’ a scientist. Furthermore, girls who define themselves as highly feminine are less likely to aspire to a career in a STEM-related field. Instead, girls are far more likely to aspire to arts-related and ‘caring’ careers.

Keynote speaker Kathryn Parsons then explained why she’s passionate about seeing more women in the technology industry and is pleased that computer science, IT and digital literacy are now part of the new curriculm. Kathryn co-founded DeCoded in 2011 with a mission to spread digital enlightenment by demystifying the world of code, data and technologies through 'Code in a Day' courses.

During the panel discussion, Miriam Franklin, director of personal development at London’s Mulberry School for Girls explained why she believes some children are more likely to pursue STEM subjects at the age of 16 than others. She commented that although science subjects are popular at A Level, typically, the ‘pure science’ subjects are less popular choices at degree level.  Medicine or the medical sciences were more popular aspirations for many young women as they are regarded as high status and altruistic careers. Miriam suggested there’s a strong case for the STEM industries to demonstrate how those in STEM-related careers are helping to make a better world.

Miriam also commented, “In the absence of accessible role models, young women, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are so distanced from STEM careers it would require exceptional vision on their part to imagine themselves in such roles.”

Anne-Marie Imafidon, who set up STEMettes, a social enterprise that’s inspiring the next generation of females into STEM echoed Miriam’s point about the accessibility of role models. Anne-Marie explained that plenty of STEM role models exist, but they’re not necessarily visible - we don’t see them on TV, for example. 

Alan Haywood, BP’s group treasurer summarised the key insights from the event and what the audience could learn from them. Firstly, organisations like BP and Deutsche Bank can help by bringing STEM-related careers to life in a way that broadens young people’s views of where STEM can lead and breaks the perception that studying STEM means becoming a ‘scientist’.

We need to identify the STEM role models in our organisations who can talk passionately about their education and careers and can illustrate the diversity of roles using language that will appeal to young people and is easy to understand. STEM careers may have greater appeal to young people if we can help to explain that many are the truly ‘helping’ professions that build communities and transform nations and STEM professionals are the people who are in charge of solving the complex problems of today’s world and its future. These kind of conversations will help dispel the myth that STEM professionals only wear lab coats and hard hats.

We also need to help to convey the value and prevalence of science in everyday life so that young people appreciate its relevance and they can identify with science outside the classroom. Young people need to understand that science qualifications may be relevant for a wide range of popular aspirations (such as business) and may be valuable to propel them to numerous careers and destinations. Parents can help by exposing children to science outside the classroom, not forgetting that young people also need to see the potential of the arts too.

The evening ended with employees signing postcards with a pledge outlining their personal commitment to help solve the STEM skills gap and registering their interest in BP and Deutsche Bank’s STEM programmes.

To find out more about BP’s commitment to STEM education and what you can do to help close the STEM skills gap, go to bp.com/STEM.

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