There’s much talk of a shortage in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in both the US and the UK. In the UK, there is general consensus that there is a shortage – Read Professor John Perkins’ Review of Engineering Skills (BIS Nov 2013) if you want a picture of how this is impacting UK industry and will limit future growth unless fixed. While in the US, debate has raged as to whether there is a shortage or not. But no one’s disputing a shortage of women in STEM.
This article by Chi Onwurah, electrical engineer and UK Member of Parliament,“Where are all the women scientists and engineers?” puts the problem succinctly: “women make up only 7% of Royal Society fellows, a body for the most eminent scientists, engineers and technologists in the UK. Just 6% of professional engineers are women, the lowest proportion in Europe. And, most worryingly, the figures are not improving. A quarter of a century since I studied electrical engineering, still just 13% of engineering undergraduates are female.”
Why should we care? Well, even if you don’t care about gender equality, it’s hard to fill a shortage in STEM skills if half the potential workforce are automatically discounted.
Among Perkins’ 22 recommendations are two which point very specifically to addressing the lack of women engineers:
- Recommendation 5. (The need for a) High profile campaign reaching out to young people, particularly girls aged 11-14 years, with inspirational messages about engineering and diverse role models, to inspire them to become “Tomorrow’s Engineers”. The engineering community should take this forward as an annual event.
- Recommendation 7. Government should continue to support schools to increase progression to A-level physics, especially among female students.
You can’t really argue with that, but my concern is that it’s too little too late – by the time kids get to secondary school the damage is often already done – the gender bias in toys and the tyranny of pink conspire to discourage an interest in STEM.
Enter GoldieBlox, an Oakland-based start-up toy company winners of Intuit’s small business competition (the prize being a 30 second slot in a commercial break in last Sunday’s Super Bowl!!!), who showcased their dedication to encouraging the female engineers of the future with this fantastic ad set to the tune of Slade’s “Come On Feel the Noize”
“Come on ditch your toys,
Girls make some noise,
More than pink, pink, pink,
We want to think.”
Not only do the girls in the ad ditch their pink toys but they build them into a rocket and fire them into a sky, trashing a beauty pageant in the process. My girls, great fans of the raspberry pie, scratch, We Go Lego and Meccano, absolutely love it! If you do too, check out UK charity, pinkstinks, and buy the Tshirt!