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Modern Muse: ‘We all need to play our part’ to get girls into Stem, says equalities minister

As Everywoman relaunches its Modern Muse application, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for women, equalities and early years at the Department for Education, Caroline Dinenage, emphasises the importance of visible role models

Women’s network Everywoman has relaunched its Modern Muse application after a year of encouraging and collecting women to act as role models for young girls.

The application is designed to make role models more accessible to young girls and encourage them into particular careers, including roles in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem).

Caroline Dinenage, parliamentary under secretary of state for women, equalities and early years at the Department for Education, emphasised the importance of giving young girls access to role models.

“There are a number of women who continue to confound expectations every day. We all need to play our part,” she said.

A lack of visible role models in the Stem industries is often cited as a reason many girls do not choose Stem careers, as they are not aware what they involve or are put off because they do not see anyone like themselves in these jobs.

By allowing women in various industries to create a Modern Muse profile so young girls can track their careers and gain insight into what particular roles involve, Everywoman hopes stereotypes and misconceptions about male-dominated industries such as technology can be broken down, and more girls will be encouraged into Stem careers.

Addressing the skills gap

Dinenage highlighted the importance of encouraging more girls to pursue Stem careers to produce “the skills to meet the demands of the world”.

The UK’s current technology skills gap means many technology firms cannot find graduates to fill empty roles. It has been claimed that a lack of basic digital skills among the UK population costs the economy about £63bn a year.

“We know that equality is not just the right thing to do for individuals, it’s not just socially the right thing to do; it’s the best thing to do for the UK,” said Dinenage said, adding that the UK should be “realising and maximising the talents of everyone”.

Research has found if the gender pay gap was eliminated, there would be 800,000 more women working and an extra £150bn would be contributed to the UK economy.

But diversity in the technology industry is often thought of as getting more women into IT, but all industries across the UK need to increase the diversity of candidates’ social backgrounds, ethnicity, gender and orientation to better reflect the UK market.

“Our prime minister has been really clear that no one should ever be held back because of their gender or their background,” said Dinenage.

“I really want to break down the presumption that there are girls’ jobs and boys’ jobs – there are just jobs”
Caroline Dinenage, Department for Education

To encourage more children into the Stem industries many believe encouragement into these roles should start at a young age. As as girls get older, however, they are deterred from Stem studies because of the negative stereotypes surrounding these careers.

Research has found young girls are often deterred from choosing to study Stem subjects as they perceive them as “too hard”, and many think Stem subjects are weighted towards boys.

“I really want to break down the presumption that there are girls’ jobs and boys’ jobs – there are just jobs,” said Dinenage.

Developing Modern Muse

As schools often struggle to partner with industry, Everywoman has made a commitment to place its muses in schools to teach young girls more about what their future careers could involve.

Co-founder of Everywoman Maxine Benson claimed girls were in “urgent need” of role models, and that when muses visited schools young women were introduced to careers most of them never knew existed.

However, said Benson, the number of girls that were inspired was limited to the number of schools Everywoman’s muses could visit.

The Modern Muse application, built in partnership with BP, helps to scale the reach of role models and mentors for young girls. The application now features more than 1,000 profiles of women from all industries.

As part of the Modern Muse relaunch, Microsoft has stepped in to be the project’s technology partner and will be signing its employees up as muses to give young people access to the career paths of their women in tech.

Many women in Stem careers claim to have “fallen into” it once they realised their career could be focused on solving a cause or problem they care about.

Chi Onwurah, shadow digital economy minister and Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, claimed she originally became an engineer so that she could help people and make a difference. “That’s why engineering has so much to offer women, and why women have so much to offer engineering,” she said.

By increasing the number of role models available to girls, Onwurah hopes the gender gap in Stem will close and there will be more diversity in general for the Stem sector.

“If you can’t see it, you can’t be it – that’s true for MPs who are visible and for women in Stem. I want the children in my constitution growing up to have more strong and diverse role models.”

To help increase the number of role models available on the Modern Muse application, Everywoman is encouraging schools and companies to sign up to the app, individuals to create their own profiles, and current muses to introduce others to the application.

Read more about Stem

  • More assistance should be given to teachers to encourage children into Stem careers, says Ada College head of computer science.
  • Mars, GSK and Deutsche Bank help CA Technologies with its Step into Stem event, designed to encourage young people to pursue careers in Stem.

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