‘Girls must be taught to be braver’: Norwich event examines STEM career barriers for girls
PUBLISHED: 17:35 27 September 2018 | UPDATED: 17:36 27 September 2018
Norfolk’s schoolgirls must be taught from a young age by teachers and parents that careers in subjects such as engineering and maths are viable for them.
This was the message at a conference designed to bring students and professionals together to talk about the problems plaguing today’s young women.
The Inspired Women Big Conversation, at The Space in Norwich, saw table talks and panel discussions on education, careers, body confidence and self esteem.
One discussion at the event on Thursday focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers and breaking down the barriers which still exist between “pink” and “blue” jobs.
Kerry Carter, from the East of England Energy Group, said girls needed to be told it was alright to push for jobs “where you get dirty and wear a hard hat”.
“If you said to a six-year-old girl ‘Would you like to be a builder?’ she would tell you that is a boy’s job. We go into high schools and colleges but it is far too late to then persuade these girls that they could be an engineer; even if they love science and maths, to convince them they could do a STEM jobs is much harder,” she said.
The different perceptions of self-assurance in men and women also needed to change, she said. “If a woman is proud of her achievements she is arrogant – if it is a man he is confident.”
Hayley Johnson, chief operating officer at Norwich tech firm Epos Now, feels parents have a big role to play.
“It is the parents who have got to start teaching them [girls] at a younger age to be braver in the things that they try,” she said.
“If we don’t challenge these things they are going to carry on with those clichés,” she said.
She added that girls and boys should be encouraged to build relationships with the opposite sex, to understand “differences in communication” between the genders.
Claire Bowthorpe is the HR manager at Clapham and Collinge in Norwich. She said that while HR is a very “female-heavy” career, the sector in which she works – law – has just seen the number of women in the profession overtake men for the first time.
“Sharing your story with a young person can help them see that their route is not predetermined,” she said.
The Inspired Women programme is run by social enterprise Inspired Youth. It is an eight-week programme which pairs students with adult mentors, providing structured talks about motivations, ambitions and confidence as well as an independent listener for the girls to share worries with.
Kerry Boczko-Brind, marketing manager at Inspired Youth, said the programme works with girls “at both ends of the spectrum”, from those with mental health problems or from deprived backgrounds to high achievers from high-performing schools.
She said: “The pressures on young girls now are absolutely huge, and they are in every part of your life through social media and television.
“Schools try their best but cannot always provide the support the children need and that is where this kind of mentoring programme can help, for the students and the school.”