Gender balance in STEM
Today the Minister for Further and Higher Education and Science, Shirley-Anne Somerville, led a roundtable discussion with Scotland’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sheila Rowan, about gender inequality in STEM fields.
They were joined at the Scottish Parliament by representatives from across the sector to discuss actions to tackle the issue as part of the ongoing STEM consultation but also to share some of the great examples already in place throughout the country.
Deputy Head Teacher of Woodmill High School, Zoe Thomson, explained how the school is working with Gender Balance Scotland to encourage not just students, but parents and teachers too in tackling stereotyping in subject choice and career pathways.
“The first step we took to a cultural shift was to put gender balance onto the remit of a Deputy Head Teacher, this allows gender balance to form part of the whole school improvement planning process. This is important as it enables us to have an overview of the strategic planning in order to involve partners, track progress and interrogate data.
“At Woodmill we have been lucky enough to be part of Shell’s Girls in Energy project. Last session 7 girls from S4-S6 attended Fife College one afternoon a week to look at the work undertaken in the energy industries. The girls took part in industrial visits and met with other students and apprentices, they also earned a National 5 skills for work unit for taking part. The partnership with Shell and Fife College has been crucial in the success of this project providing the students with a taste of “college life” and the opportunity to meet female engineers.
“One of our students from an earlier session has successfully secured an apprenticeship at Leonardo (formerly SELEX). Olivia was supported by members of Equate Scotland during her application and interview process which really helped her confidence and provided additional support we couldn’t offer within school. Another of our former students who took part in an earlier session has gone on to study Civil Engineering at Heriot Watt. Now both girls are role models for our next cohort leading to 14 girls signing up for the 2016/17 session.
“Feedback from the girls has also been incredibly positive:
“This has shown me engineering is not about getting your hands dirty but more about creative problem solving.” – Sarah M S5
Caitlyn S4 – “I am not sure what I want to do but this has given me more options.”
“I have had more confidence to offer answers without the intimidation of boys.” – Millie S4
“As a school we work hard to create links with partners and Skills Development Scotland has helped us arrange talks from female apprentices. We have found this is more powerful when the speaker is close in age to the audience and also targeting a smaller group of girls rather than an entire year group.
“Girls rarely make their subject choice in isolation so our next challenge is to work on the unconscious bias and misinformation in parents and teachers. Pupils really only know about a small range of careers and we are working with our partners in Early years to begin to broaden these horizons from age three to ensure girls have equal access to STEM opportunities and the benefits they can bring.”