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Accenture has partnered with charity Stemettes to stage a multi-city event aimed at encouraging 1,800 schoolgirls to consider science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) careers, giving them the opportunity to hear from Stem role models.
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Events ran simultaneously in five cities across the UK and Ireland, where girls aged between 11 and 15 attended workshops and panel discussions to learn what a Stem career involves.
The events were part of an initiative to address the growing IT skills gap and encourage a more diverse workforce in technology, breaking down Stem industry stereotypes.
Emma McGuigan, senior managing director for Accenture Technology in the UK and Ireland, said: “The speakers and workshops across the UK and Ireland aim to inspire girls and educate them about the amazing possibilities open to them.”
McGuigan said the event aimed to create a “culture of asking questions” and the girls were given access to Accenture volunteers and female role models, enabling them to interact with people currently working in Stem.
Part of the purpose of the event was to break down Stem industry stereotypes after Accenture research found that more than half of 12-year-old girls consider Stem subjects “too hard”.
“It is a serious concern that girls believe Stem subjects are too hard to learn, so the aim of our events is to showcase the applicability of these skills through interactive workshops,” said McGuigan.
The workshops aimed to address this misconception while also promoting the creative element of technology and science-based subjects.
“The workshops are about the art of discovery, and they’re about discovery of the art of the possible in forensic science, in 3D printing, in coding,” said McGuigan.
During the day, the children were taught coding, took part in workshops demonstrating Stem skills and computational thinking, and attended panels where women in the Stem industries spoke about their careers.
Exposing children to role models
A major purpose of the day was to ensure young girls were exposed to role models from the Stem sector to inspire them to consider it as a career path.
Many believe some Stem role models are too far removed from what young girls feel they can achieve, and that they should have access to role models they can relate to.
McGuigan said the speakers were chosen to show the girls what they could aspire to in the future.
“We wanted to have a balance between the aspirational roles at a more senior level and then creating an opportunity [for the girls] to try things out that was very inclusive,” she added.
Other research has found that 84% of young people turn to their parents for career advice, and Jacquelyn Guderley, managing Stemette, said that although a diverse range of role models is important, parents are often interested in having senior women accessible to offer children advice on Stem careers.
“Part of the problem of the Stem industry is that a lot of parents, and therefore their children, are not quite getting that you can have a lot of success in these industries,” said Guderley.
Having more senior people on the panel shows how well you can do in a Stem career and offers “proof of success” for children considering a Stem career and their parents, she added.
“It is extremely important to have diversity of role models, be that ethnicity, religion or age,” said Guderley.
Falling into Stem
A panel of women from the technology sector described to the London group of girls how they first entered the industry, with many admitting they did not intentionally seek out an IT-based job.
Michelle Cain, co-ordinator for the Cambridge Centre for Climate Science, said: “I didn’t have a particular direct route [into technology]. In fact, a lot of people don’t.”
Rhona Bradshaw, director of digital at Virgin Media, said also she “fell into” a technology career, and said the current “falling into tech” trend is due to the impact that changing technology is having on other industries and related careers.
“Over the course of the last 10 to 12 years, data became really important,” said Bradshaw. “Suddenly the digital revolution started and websites became really important.”
The panel emphasised the benefits of having women in tech roles, because a diverse workplace encourages innovation through open discussion and varied ideas.
Read more about women in Stem
Catherine Doran, Royal Mail CIO, emphasised this point, stating that although “often people say this is a job for boys”, the Stem industry would benefit from a mix of skillsets.
“If you go into a room that’s all men or all women, you just don’t get the same conversations,” said Doran.
“A different view and a different take on the world will change the design of technology and how we use it.”
Doran also labelled her career path a “lucky accident” and said: “Being in IT is all about solving problems and puzzles, and I love doing that.”