Tina Turner once sang we don’t need another hero but increasingly, I feel we do.  As an avid sports fan, this summer has been a feast of sporting achievements producing all sorts of heroes, and frankly I’m loving it.  What has been very special is the increasing number of successful women leading the feature stories on front and back pages of newspapers and trending on social media. The globally successful female athlete is no longer a rarity.

What’s not to love about getting sucked in to their journey of years of dedication and when, on their special day, it all comes together.  No wonder there are tears – and that’s just me.

But seriously, does the rise of female role models in sport give the STEM sector an opportunity to refresh our thinking on STEM sector role models? What can we learn from the increasing mainstreaming of women’s achievements in sports that have fired up and seem to be inspiring women to break through so many barriers?

It could of course just be all about the bottom line where women’s sport could generate more than £1 billion per year by 2030 Women’s sport could generate more than £1bn per year by 2030, study finds | Women’s football | The Guardian.  But even so, consider the possibility that the same type of bottom line benefit could benefit the STEM sector, if only we untapped all that talent and potential.

Back to sport, and on to Emma Raducanu’s win – quite literally smashed it – and how appropriate that it was witnessed by Virginia Wade.  What followed was the number of people I spoke to who did not realise that she was a 3 times Grand Slam Singles title holder (US/Australia/ Wimbledon)/ a 4 times Grand Slam Doubles Champion and won 55 titles over her career; she was also world No 2, Virginia Wade – Wikipedia – so why is it that these achievements are not regularly talked about when we talk about British tennis?

The summer Olympics was also full of milestones.  For the first time in its 125 year history, the British team comprised more women than men (201 to 175).  In addition the games themselves had nearly a 50:50 gender split with more female competitors than ever before. Tokyo 2020 – Team GB’s cast of female role models can count for more than just medals at Olympic Games – Eurosport

So too for the Paralympian’s – the increased mainstreaming of Paralympic sport has seen a host of new sporting personalities come to our attention. Not just inspiring to watch but hearing the articulation of what many athletes feel is their role as ambassadors and so well conveyed by Ellie Robinson, “With an identity comes a platform, as well as the ability to educate and to introduce new perceptions to society.” https://paralympics.org.uk/articles/impact-stories-ellie-robinson-and-paralympians-as-role-model

The International Olympic Committee media handbook for Tokyo stated “role models are created – showing people what, and how, they could, or should be.”  And so it is also true in STEM, where the well know mantra of “you can’t be what you can’t see” unfortunately is still too true.

Consider the challenges we are facing in our post COVID, climate challenging world.  We already see the skills gaps across STEM sectors, increasing digital expansion, the need for green jobs and quicker green transitions, it will become increasingly challenging for us as a society to meet those demands if we do not start to better engage the skills and talents of all of our people.

We’ve talked for so many years about the leaky pipeline The Issue – Equate Scotland  where girls and women drop out of STEM without addressing root cause.  With only 30% (in some STEM sectors) and as low as 2% in others how can we fix these issues,  accelerate the societal changes and attitudes that will stop so many women checking out considering or sustaining STEM careers?

A recent study Frontiers | Girls in STEM: Is It a Female Role-Model Thing? | Psychology (frontiersin.org) offers up some thoughts developing from the research on expectancy-value theory of achievement motivation.  Expectancy-Value Theory – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics According to the theory as applied in the study when expectations of success and the value of STEM degrees and careers are high girls are much more likely to choose STEM pathways. The study is innovative because it puts role model STEM women in the class room, and they are talking and sharing the experience first-hand.  This approach is getting into one key part of the root cause issue and if this could be replicated alongside wider curriculum reforms in relation to STEM subject choices that could be a good thing, for us all.

Increasing women in STEM roles must be a social and political imperative.  The future of women at work: Transitions in the age of automation | McKinsey estimate that globally between 40 and 160 million women (7-24% of those currently employed) may need to transition between occupations to higher skilled roles.  As part of just transition women will need more of these new higher end and importantly, higher paid skills.  If we are to build back fairer, building that pipeline, developing the curriculum and policy to ensure this happens must be at the forefront of our economic and social policy strategies.  Role models in sport give us all inspiration and if we are to change the cycle in STEM they are increasingly important there too.

Our contribution is our STEMinist Awards – letting you put STEM students and women to the forefront, sharing and shouting out about their achievements and success. So take inspiration of this summer of women in sport – exercise your fingers on the keyboard and get nominating – because if not you, then who?  Equate STEMinist Awards Nomination – Equate Scotland