In an era where women are increasingly prominent in law, business and medicine, we are all trying to instil the mantra into young girls that they can grow up to be anything they want to be. So why are there still so few females in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) ? This Winchester Woman Wednesday, Emma Parry talks to us about New Breed; A campaign to smash the stereotypes, targeted at inspiring young people from all backgrounds, particularly women, to come forward and consider STEM careers.
Tell us a bit about where your interest in STEM originated from?
I think I’ve always just been fascinated by the big ‘why’ questions. I can remember going on walks with my dad when I was little and just chatting away about the meaning of life and where we came from. I’ve always been taught that there’s so much fun in testing something, going away and researching or doing an experiment and then concluding based on what you found out. And if you apply that to some of life’s big questions and contribute to the combined effort that is going on in something like Astrophysics, just imagine where that kind of effort could lead! I just find it completely fascinating.
What challenges did you face as a teenager with this passion?
I think I put a lot of pressure on myself in general as a teenager. It’s a difficult time, and certainly I felt like I had to like the ‘right’ thing in order to fit in – as you can imagine, that didn’t include geeking out over science and aviation! I put all of my interests in a little box and filed them away until I got to university and then I couldn’t help but throw caution to the wind and pursue them again.
What was the defining moment that made you want to revisit it?
I started attending airshows again when I was university, which was around the time that social media was starting to pick up speed and it was like I’d found my people! Suddenly I discovered this whole community of like-minded people who were visiting airshows and were tweeting about different career options and interesting things about the aviation industry. It just made me think outside out this little bubble I’d created that centered around school and being liked.
How can we encourage the young women around us and future female generations to get involved in STEM topics?
I think young people need role models and creative spaces that show the awesome, inspirational side of STEM. It has a bit of an image problem, with certain stereotypes playing a big part in how people perceive roles and careers in these fields and although that is certainly beginning to change, there’s still lots of work to be done – that’s why I created New Breed.
What is the New Breed mission and why do you think it’s important now, more than ever?
Social media has changed our cultural landscape. People get their news and formulate opinions and ideas based on their selection of trusted sources now – for some people that might be the BBC news app but for others that might be Instagram and Snapchat. If we want to get more young people, from diverse backgrounds, into STEM we need to be realistic when we consider where they are influenced.
New Breed is aiming to build an online community, sharing stories and news about all things STEM, in a way that is more friendly and appealing to a younger audience and in particular, more appealing to women, in order to inspire more people to get involved and seriously consider STEM careers. In addition to this, I’m also running New Breed events, which take place on the last Thursday of each month in Winchester and offer people the opportunity to come along and chat to a range of STEM professionals (on the list so far we have pilots, air traffic controllers, astrophysicists, PhD students and a submariner!). There’s no ‘death by powerpoint’ but instead it’s a group conversation and Q&A session, exposing some of the lesser known STEM opportunities and busting some of the myths and stereotypes.
In STEM careers, only 25% of the UK’s graduates and 21% of its workforce are female, why do you think this is?
I think it’s just the result of our previous cultural norms. Fifty or so years ago STEM careers were only promoted to, and considered appropriate for, men but that is changing. I think that figure is probably a lot healthier than it was maybe twenty years ago, and hopefully in the next twenty, through initiatives like New Breed, that number will have increased even more! I’m a big believer in the fact that lots of small steps can lead you to great change – this isn’t something we’ll be able to change over night, but the tide is turning!
What do you think the challenges are for women considering a career outside of ‘pink’ subjects and how do you think they can be overcome?
I’m not sure there are any! There’s certainly still work to be done to challenge the stereotypes and highlight the fact that super cool, kick-ass women are doing these roles right now, which means YOU CAN TOO, but I think that social media is beginning to play a really key role in that. Movements in Science Communication like #ThisIsWhatAScientistLooksLike and communities such as New Breed, are great for demonstrating the diversity within the field and they’re only going to grow and get stronger. If you’re interested, want to know more and get involved, then there are plenty of avenues to support people now.
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