Girls in STEM: A message for your students

After marking International Women’s Day, schools can keep pushing the message that girls’ STEM career potential is unlimited, writes Sally Williams

After marking International Women’s Day, schools can keep pushing the message that girls’ STEM career potential is unlimited, writes Sally Williams

14 Mar 2023, 10:30

Last week marked International Women’s Day, but the work of closing gender gaps in the workplace is an ongoing effort. Many positive messages about women will have been delivered in schools to mark the day, and I would like to add mine about STEM careers, which bears repeating regularly. 

Women are badly needed and wanted in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) industries. Last year Engineering UK found that only 16.5 per cent of workers in engineering occupations were female. It’s a big improvement on 2010, when it was only 10.5 per cent – but progress is still too slow. 

This is a familiar issue for schools, and the Department for Education is clearly concerned. A couple of years ago it published a report on how to boost girls’ uptake of STEM A levels. It recommended a host of actions, from emails to parents to a dedicated website. 

More simply, I think we should talk about this regularly in assemblies and careers sessions, so please feel free to communicate this next bit to the girls in your school – with a little something for boys to think about too. 

STEM careers are incredibly exciting 

I spent most of today in a hangar, looking at the hydrogen fuel cell engine we are building to replace fossil fuel engines in existing planes. 

Our team, including many talented female engineers, has built a zero-emission engine to try to reduce climate change. Imagine getting to say that’s your day job! STEM isn’t about being really nerdy. It’s about caring about how to use science and engineering to make the world a better place. 

There are so many opportunities 

You’re really lucky; You’re living in a country where the future of STEM industries is really bright. The UK is world-renowned as a centre for research and development in science and technology, with people trying to solve health issues, climate change challenges, and other global problems. 

By this year, STEM is expected to account for 2.5 million jobs in the UK. And the pay is good too. For example, the average salary for an aerospace engineer is £48,000 gross per year, which is £18,400 higher than the national average salary. 

In a world where costs are high and increasing, it’s really important you’re paid well. Go and work for or train with companies that reimburse people properly. 

Don’t count yourself out 

There’s lots of research to show that many girls underestimate their potential. Don’t underestimate yourself. It’s also important you know you don’t need a particular degree to work in the STEM sector. At ZeroAvia, we have just employed two young people: one has a sociology degree and the other one has a biochemistry degree. They’re both working with our commercial team, to help the company grow. 

You also don’t need a degree at all. Apprenticeships are a brilliant way to enter the sector and get paid doing it. Ask your school careers lead. 

Instead, what companies want is employees with similar values and passions to them. If employees share our commitment to our mission, that goes a long way. If you’re not sure what you find interesting yet, set aside 30 minutes in the evening after school, and explore science and engineering-related content, even on Tik Tok and YouTube. There’s some incredibly fascinating stuff out there. 

If you are considering a STEM degree or apprenticeship (and I encourage you to), then think about doing a little extra. For example, the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS), who we partner with, can help you run real-life research projects in school. That impresses employers like me and it gives you something great to put on your CV.  

Boys can help too 

Finally, it’s really important that boys feel they can support girls in this. It turns out workplace culture is better – and businesses make more money, and can pay more! – when men and women are working together. 

If you’re a young man wanting to go into STEM industries, encourage your female friends to come with you. Your words could mean a lot. 

Finally, there is so much more work still to be done. We need more women at my own company where the vast majority of engineers are men. 

We need more girls to join so we can promote them to the top team one day. We would love one of them to be you. 

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