Thursday, June 23, 2022

You can’t be, what you can’t see

Alexandra Knight, founder of Stemazing

Alexandra Knight, founder of Stemazing – the organisation she set up to inspire greater diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). She will be delivering a keynote talk at this year’s BESA National Conference. 

People who work in STEM are the hidden heroes of humanity. They keep society functioning, but most of the population is unaware of the vital work people in STEM do.  

That is why we need more visible role models. 

Research by Engineering UK shows that a whopping 73% of 11–14-year-olds don’t know what engineers do, 69% of parents don’t know what engineers do, and 42% of teachers don’t feel confident giving engineering career advice. Is it any wonder then that we don’t have enough people choosing to pursue STEM and go into STEM careers, like building services engineering?  

The STEM skills shortage is estimated to cost employers in the UK £1.5bn a year. This cost to the economy is huge, but what will the cost to humanity be in the future if we don’t plug this gap? Role models inform, influence, and inspire the decisions people make about their life and career. 

As we evolve through the 4th Industrial Revolution and beyond, the need for innovation in STEM will continue to increase at pace. Innovation in STEM is key to solving some of our biggest global challenges – and a key ingredient for innovation is diversity.  

Black and ethnic minority workers make up only 12% of the UK STEM workforce and only 24% are women. When you look at engineering alone it’s even worse, with only 14% women in engineering. This is not enough. Research shows that children aged 3–5-years old already show less support for counter stereotypical STEM career choices. 

Research shows that girls who only interact with male STEM educators reinforce their negative stereotype that they don’t belong in STEM. The surprising evidence is that boys who interact with female STEM educators don’t think they are any less able or respected but they have a more equitable view of girls and women in STEM so their experience is also positive. 

This is not only crucially important for diversity but also a key piece of the inclusion puzzle. In addition to this, a study presented in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology showed that early childhood is a key window in which educational interventions aimed at fostering female engagement with STEM may have greater impact. So diverse role models benefit everyone, and the younger this engagement happens the better.  

Stemazing is dedicated to inspiration and inclusion in STEM. We are passionate about the importance of diverse visible role models. One of our initiatives, the Stemazing Inspiration Academy, empowers women in STEM to shine as visible role models and inspire Primary children through fun, interactive STEM sessions. They take part in a 4-month programme of training and workshops before delivering a 6-week programme of LIVE online sessions which are all hands-on simple STEM activities and experiments designed to promote curiosity, creativity, and courage.  

Places for Primary schools are prioritised by percentage of families on free school-meals to ensure we are reaching the highest need areas. In our first round, 45 women in STEM and 1,600 children took part with fantastic feedback. For our second round we accepted 60 women which will enable us to make an even bigger impact. 

However, this is only part of the long-term solution. Recruiting more diverse people into STEM does not bring the potential benefits unless those diverse perspectives are able to thrive.  

We have a long way to go, but with more awareness of what good looks like and where the pain-points are – maybe then we will cultivate the STEM culture that enables and empowers everyone.  

Come and take part in Alexandra’s keynote session at the BESA National Conference and learn how your organisation can support and inspire role models to boost skills diversity in building services. 

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