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Stemettes and Monster: Why focusing on STEM confidence is vital for girls

Job site Monster and social enterprise Stemettes have partnered for a fourth year to run workshops aimed at preparing girls for the world of work and encouraging them into the STEM sector

The Monster Confidence events, which are run as part of a partnership between Stemettes and job site Monster, are aimed at helping young girls gain the skills they need to apply for jobs in the near future.

The social enterprise and job website host groups of young women, run career workshops and give them access to a number of industry speakers who will answer questions about science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) roles.

Now in its fourth year, the event aims to teach girls between the ages of 14 and 18 skills such as CV building, how to conduct job interviews, and giving presentations. But why is the event so focused on giving girls confidence?

Anne-Marie Imafidon, CEO at Stemettes, said the day is not about promoting “confidence for confidence’s sake”, but to give girls a safe space to explore areas such as STEM where stereotypes or societal norms may have knocked confidence during an age where an interest in STEM – and other seemingly male-focused subjects – begins to drop off.

“We’re focusing on confidence because we are fortunate to have the kind of environment where the girls can come in, be vulnerable, build up these skills, and hear from people, and we can suspend the kind of reality that drives confidence out of people,” said Imafidon.

“It’s not that girls don’t have confidence, but it’s been knocked out by social norms, the expectations girls have had placed on them, and by conditioning – and sometimes by the school environment and the environment at home.”

Monster Confidence is held in several cities – first held in London, followed by Teeside and Peterbourough – to reach girls across the UK who will take part in speed mentoring with women in STEM, mock interviews, and sessions on creating an online presence.

Misconceptions about the technology sector often deter young girls from choosing STEM careers, leading young people to believe technology roles are not for them, or to being pushed into other careers by their parents and teachers.

Young girls have said they steer clear of subjects such as computing because they see them as “too difficult”, but young women have also admitted to regretting not taking an interest in STEM further because they realised later how beneficial it would be for a future career.

The Monster Confidence events are aimed at dispelling these misconceptions to help girls realise STEM could be the right career for them.

Lou Goodman, EU product marketing director at Monster UK, said: “There’s still a lot of areas that girls don’t think are for them. It’s naturally seen maybe more as something that boys [want to do]. I don’t think there’s a lot of information given about how brilliant and exciting some of these subjects can be. Monster Confidence days are really just to help the girls with skills that they would use for whatever career they choose.”

A lack of visible role models has also been cited as a reason girls do not choose STEM careers, as they cannot see anyone else like them in the sector.

The event looks to help make role models more accessible to girls in an attempt to break down some of the stereotypes surrounding the STEM sector, such as who can be a part of it.

According to Sonika Phakey, digital marketing manager at marketing agency Digital Fairies, a majority of young people think the tech and digital sector is run by white men, but emphasised that a digital career is “more than meets the eye”.

She said that “removing the perception of the industry is the first hurdle to changing it” and urged the girls at the event not to let perceptions of the sector stop them for going into it.

Even seemingly insurmountable problems can be tackled if you bring the right minds together as part of one team. That’s why diversity is so important
Jo Cavan, GCHQ

Drawing on her own experience breaking into tech, Jo Cavan, strategy policy and engagement director for GCHQ, said she never thought she’d end up working in a STEM career, and was once told by a career’s adviser she’d amount to nothing.

“It’s not quite as glam as the James Bond films or as extreme, but there are some similarities,” she said of working at GCHQ. “We have loads of super cool gadgets.”

Putting an emphasis on why diversity is important in organisations, Cavan said: “Even seemingly insurmountable problems can be tackled if you bring the right minds together as part of one team. That’s why diversity is so important to us at GCHQ, and for our future.”

The technology sector is not currently diverse – around 66% of the tech sector is white, only an approximate 8% identifies as LGBTQIA+, and around 18% of the sector is made up of women.

Some issues the technology industry is currently facing, such as a lack of skilled workers and the risk of introducing bias into future artificial intelligence (AI) systems, could be eased through encouraging more young people, including those outside of the stereotypical white male realm, into the STEM sector.

But many believe the UK’s computing curriculum, though trying to address the issues, is not fit for purpose.

“We need home-grown talent, and we do need more investment in education – the education system’s not fit for purpose,” said Imafidon.

“We need to empower all kinds of people to know [digital] is a literacy now, it’s not a special thing that special people do. It’s not special to learn English. It shouldn’t be special to do maths and digital.”

Read more about digital skills

  • Girls have admitted there are role models available to them from the science, technology, engineering and maths industries, but they want to hear from coders and developers.
  • Digital sector must overcome its “image problem” to attract more people to learn new skills, says Lord Mayor at launch of digital skills project.

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