From education to employment

How to encourage more young women to pursue careers in STEM

By Anne Sheehan, Enterprise Director, Vodafone UK

There is a clear opportunity to bring about positive change when it comes to women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.

While women make up almost half of the UK’s workforce, not many choose a career in STEM fields, and three in four UK businesses report a digital skills shortage among their employees, according to a report by the British Chambers of Commerce.

Recent studies showed that only 11% of the UK’s engineering workforce is made up of women. This comes as no surprise, as only 9.8% of those who took computing at A-levels in 2017 were girls.

As a woman in tech myself, I strongly believe businesses have a responsibility to support female talent, and encourage more women to explore STEM subjects at all levels of education

Luckily, there are a number of programmes that can give girls and young women the confidence to pursue careers in STEM. This is also what we try to do at Vodafone. By creating an inclusive and diverse workplace, we hope to improve the lives of our employees, and also inspire our customers, partners, and the wider business community to do the same.

That’s why I wanted to share – how we can support more girls in pursuing a degree, and career, in STEM.

First-hand experience

I believe there is a huge potential to encourage young women to feel excited about STEM topics, and give them more opportunities to get first-hand experience.

We have worked with Code First to provide training to teenage girls. This programme teaches basic knowledge of computer languages developer programmes, and enables students to create a website by the end of the course. This gives great insight into what a programming job would be like. Many of us might be great at coding, but the only way to find that out is to actually try it out!

Encourage young girls to get into STEM through mentoring

From my experience, having mentors can make an incredible difference to your career choice. That’s why I think young women should be given the opportunity to meet more often with these working in STEM fields to better understand the opportunities out there.

Step into STEM, a programme run by Girls Talk London, and supported by Vodafone, provides mentoring and work experience for girls studying STEM subjects at sixth form. So far this 7-month programme welcomed 106 participants from across London, Birmingham and Leeds. It’s been amazing seeing the boost it has given to those who have taken part.

As one of our mentees said, the programme exposes students to so many new ideas and areas in STEM – especially in technology, that otherwise many students wouldn’t know existed.

Programmes like this expose the participants to new skills and industry connections, and give them both the experience they later apply outside the course as well as role models to learn from. For many it is a great stepping-stone for a career in STEM, and can make an incredible difference to career progression.

Support throughout their careers

While supporting young women to choose a career in STEM is important, it is also vital that support continues throughout a woman’s career. Our research with KPMG found there is an estimated 96 million skilled women aged 30-54 on career breaks worldwide. Tapping into this potential and helping those who want to get back in to the workplace to do so would give a massive economic boost.

Our Reconnect initiative, is designed to attract talented people who have been on a career break – in most cases to raise a family – and would like to return to work on a full-time or flexible basis.

The programme was developed in recognition of the fact that people often struggle to make the professional connections needed, or to refresh the skills required, after taking a career break.

Final thoughts

Technology will increasingly be at the heart of functional and collaborative workforces. At Vodafone, we see it as our responsibility to inspire future generations to become technology leaders, regardless of gender, background, or ambitions.

Technology sits at the heart of incredible change and disruption across UK businesses, and I am excited to be part of a great movement to encourage young girls and women to explore their professional potential in ICT.

By Anne Sheehan, Enterprise Director, Vodafone UK

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