International Day of Women and Girls in Science – Thursday 11th February
Celebrating girls and women in STEM
If we are to be able to address the enormous challenges of the twenty -first century – from climate change to technological disruption – we will need to rely on science and the mobilization of all our resources. It is for this reason that the world must not be deprived of the potential, the intelligence, or the creativity of the thousands of women who are victims of deep-seated inequality and prejudice.Audrey Azoulay, Director General UNESCO
Inspiring words from the Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO, but is that our reality? It might be easy to dismiss as feminist propaganda the push to encourage more girls and women into STEM subjects in education and onto science-based careers subsequently. But the global shortage of engineers, scientists and mathematicians is real. Engineering UK projects a shortfall of almost 100,000 by 2024 for one economy alone. Against this backdrop we are in danger of experiencing real issues, not just with innovation but in maintenance of existing infrastructures and manufacturing if something doesn’t change.
This isn’t simply a skill shortage, this is an expensive knowledge gap. Caroline Criado Perez, in her 2020 award-winning book, Invisible Women, highlights this over and over again with a list of examples from gritting road surfaces, the composition of orchestras to car design. The latter an area of specialism for Simcenter.
Men are more likely than women to be involved in a car crash, which means they dominate the numbers of those seriously injured in car accidents. But when woman is involved in a car crash, she is 47% more likely to be seriously injured than a man, and 71% more likely to be moderately injured, even when researchers control for factors such as height, weight, seat-belt usage, and crash intensity. She is also 17% more likely to die. And it’s all to do with how the car is designed – and for whom.Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women.
The economic impact of this is hard to measure, but it is without doubt significant.
The UN clearly recognizes this issue, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, is part of the initiative to address this gender inequality. When working on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development it became clear that the development goals could not be achieved whilst this gender inequality remained. Over the past 15 years, the global community has made a collective effort to inspire and engage women and girls in science. Yet, across the globe, women and girls continue to be excluded from participating fully in STEM subjects and careers.
Being part of the positive change
Siemens Digital Industries Software is actively engaged in improving this situation through activities, programs and positive interventions to make STEM careers not just accessible but desirable for women and girls. From the very youngest girls entering education, into further education and on into the workplace.
Pre-school – girls up to age six
We have to start at the very beginning, we have to start young. This fabulous TedTalk by Debbie Sterling back in 2013 talks about toys for girls, toys that break away from the traditional stereotypes of nurturing role play for girls to construction toys. Toys that show a path to STEM careers, build confidence in their abilities and help close some of the gender gaps that appear at school. Those gender gaps tend to be less confidence in maths and have less developed spatial awareness. By putting those tools into young girls hands before they even get to school we open up the path to an engineering career.
School years – girls up to eighteen
Nebabie Kebebew, who heads up the Women’s Impact Network across Siemens, shared the partnership Siemens is developing with Girls Inc, an organization set up to inspire all girls to be strong, smart and bold. Aimed at girls across the US and Canada their program spans healthy living, academic enrichment and life skills instruction.
We have systemic biases built-in cultures and communities that discourage girls from exploring and learning about STEM. Change has to be deliberate and requires all of us to be allies and role models to change the mindset and inspire girls. The Women Impact Network ERG at Siemens gives us a platform to work in partnership with outreach organization, through mentorship, and foster an environment where girls at a young age can imagine and explore what is possible with the sciences.
When they move through school and on into High School, Siemens Digital Industries Software works on many different programs of its own but also supports existing programs across the globe to make STEM education, and therefore STEM careers, more accessible to women and girls.
Support across the globe
I met with several women’s STEM champions pulling together this blog to understand the breadth of activity on offer. Flore Gouaux heads up the Women’s Impact Network in France and she shared with me the amazing number of events and initiatives that Siemens France is working with to further Women and Girls in technology and science:
I don’t need to tell you that it is a challenging time but we still have some exciting projects coming up, as well as some long standing partnerships. We work with “Elles bougent” association, they promote exciting scientific and technical professions to schoolgirls and female students. Some of us are “Elles bougent” godmothers and meet with high school girls to discuss about our paths to technical jobs.
There is the annual GIRLS TECH DAY will take place on the France on April 17, 2021, this is an event to educate girls about STEM and new technologies such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, virtual reality and software, at the same time as having fun, with escape games and other activities. The event is also aimed at girls’ parents with lectures on * data safety & cyberstalking; * bias and stereotypes about STEM jobs; * a round table with STEM female role models.
On the day of the event, the participants will be able to download the INSPIRE ME app, where they can discover dozens of female role models and see that * tech is fun * tech is compatible with a family life and a full social life * being in tech is not only about tech skills but soft skills * any girl can become a woman in tech …
Choosing a major – on to college
These types of activities are replicated across the globe, encouraging more women and girls into STEM subjects in further education. Across many divisions of the company internships are available, and whilst not exclusively for women in STEM we do now have a much better balance between the sexes in these positions paving the way for a more balanced workforce. Izzy Thalman shared her story about her time as a Siemens intern, during which she took part in the FIRST Robotics program. This program also has a focus on encouraging women into STEM careers.
I also had the opportunity to talk with Dora Smith, who alongside her full-time role at Siemens Digital Industries Software is the VP of Diversity and Inclusion for the International Federation for Engineering Education Societies. One of the projects is a series of e-books featuring inspiring stories from women engineering executives in academia and industry. Brenda Discher, SVP Business Strategy and Marketing at Siemens Digital Industries Software was featured in the first e-book. The second volume has just been published.
She also shared the ‘Innovations in the Classroom’ podcast series, in particular Dora was keen that we listened to a podcast with one of our customers, Susanne Barnsteiner an industrial engineering intern at AGCO interviewed by Siemens intern, Christina DePinto. Dora emphasized how Siemens initiatives have made this possible, it would’ve been much harder even 10 years ago to set up an interview between female interns in the high-tech or heavy industry sectors, because there were far fewer.
In the workplace
Whilst across Siemens Digital Industries Software women only make up 19% of the workforce, 30% of all new hires in 2020 were women. Attracting top talent is not enough, keeping and realizing that talent is essential. Nebabie recognized this and said it was one of the reasons to set up the Women’s Impact Network across Siemens. The ability to connect women across the globe and tap into that talent to encourage even more women into these careers. Now boasting 27 chapters across 10 countries, the network continues to grow and support initiatives like those listed in this blog, on a local, national and international level.
Today is truly a great time to be a woman in STEM.