By Henrietta Cameron
This month I was asked to run a new workshop on ‘How to be a Woman in STEM’. In lieu of ‘STEM for dummies’ book I went for 3 points to lead the workshop on:
- Understand the context you are studying and working in.
- Know your rights and know your worth.
- Rethink what being resilient means to you
Understand the context
Knowing that you are a member of a marginalised group and hearing stats and facts behind the issue might seem like a stark way to start a session. But we can’t shy away from the fact many women may be isolated in the classroom and the workplace and the impact on women, organisations and society is high. 35% of STEM students in Higher Education in the UK are women, and in Scotland 70% will leave their sector after graduation compared to 48% of men. No wonder so many women are looking to develop skills such as confidence and resilience. It’s not an individual’s problem, external factors force us to be resilient.
Understanding our local and wider contexts can also be empowering for young women. Government and business are looking to diversify workforces not only for the moral imperative but to address the nation’s skills gaps and to enhance business services, products, and profit margins.
Gender segregation and imbalance results in lost economic potential for the country and missed opportunities for individuals. Scottish Government 2017
Know your rights and know your worth
In the same way that we can’t shy away from some stark stats. We can’t shy away from the fact we need to know where we stand legally and who can support us in the future to be confident in our positions.
As a starter we looked at the Equality Act (2010) to help us understand the types of discrimination and characteristics that are protected legally. We zoomed in on the Gender Pay Gap, using research from Close the Gap, considering different ways unequal pay can manifest. For example, the pay gap in part-time and full-time work is 27%, perhaps not an issue as a new graduate. But, when considering that 42% of women in Scotland work part-time compared to 13% of men, the future issue becomes apparent.
Importantly we considered who can help us as Women in STEM. Running a ‘How to be a Woman in STEM workshop’ does run the risk that someone leaves thinking the burden is on all on themselves. Identifying what groups, colleagues, support networks, trade unions and pressure groups can give us information and represent us is important for our resilience.
Finally, we finished by rethinking what resilience can mean for Women in STEM. Considering how ideas of resilience can be helpful when focussed as caring, inclusive, and collaborative. We explored recent #GirlBoss trends and traditional ideas of resilience making us feel we must be strong and power through despite negative external factors. These are not always a helpful approach to take the stressful, difficult, and potentially discriminatory environments.
During the workshop we created our own personal resilience toolkit sharing our own techniques and tools such as, support networks, special songs, and strategies to allow time to feel emotions but also carry on with normal of life.
Finally, we collectively wrote a poem about what resilience means for us:
When I imagine Resilience, I think of
Standing your ground
Metaphorically climbing a mountain
Look within yourself
Allow yourself to feel emotions
Buy yourself flowers
Taking one step at a time
Thanks to the University of Stirling Women in STEM society for inviting me along and for your open, caring, and collaborative approaches to supporting each other.
This workshop was designed collaboratively by Equate Scotland training team members Robyn Harris and Henrietta Cameron.
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Close the Gap, Statistics, https://www.closethegap.org.uk/content/gap-statistics/
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Royal Society Edinburgh. (2018), Tapping all our Talents, https://rse.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Tapping-All-Our-Talents.pdf
Scottish Government. (2017), Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics: education and training strategy, https://www.gov.scot/publications/science-technology-engineering-mathematics-education-training-strategy-scotland/pages/7/
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