Stanmore College led the way on promoting gender equality on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2019, by hosting an inspirational event commemorating the current and past achievements of women in society. Head of School, Vik Seeborun, led the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) students and staff in support of their calls for change and celebration of the determination of ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in policies, services and infrastructure that has had an impact on all our lives.

Vik Seeborun and student STEM Ambassador, Alis Flutr Alexei, welcomed special guests Madam Mayor of Harrow - Kareema Marikar, Dr Huma Shah - Associate, School of Computing, Electronics and Maths at Coventry University, Helen Abari - Ambassador for Accounting in 64 countries worldwide and teacher at Stanmore College and Dr Martina Doolan - UK National Teaching Fellow and Principal Lecturer, Centre for Computer Science and Informatics Research at the University of Hertfordshire.

Attendees noted that only 32% of girls say STEM is their best subject in contrast to 60% of boys, only 22% of the core STEM workforce are female and just 8% of females make up STEM apprenticeships. Vik Seeborun recalled only one female student studying I.T. when he had first joined the College.

The Principal, Sarbdip Noonan’s interesting discussion with STEM students was shared with attendees. Sarbdip highlighted the salary difference between females and males doing the same job and that females are significantly underestimated at leadership level. As a College and a publically funded organisation there is a legal duty to eliminate discrimination; 63% of the workforce at Stanmore College are females and 37% males and there is a high percentage of females on the Senior Leadership Team.

Sarbdip had grown up in a working class family, attended state schools and progressed to university, embraced employment and worked her way up to Principal. As such, she firmly believes that, if students have the desire to do well there are no barriers that cannot be overcome. Students were encouraged to listen to the knowledgeable and enlightened guest speakers to learn how they too can contribute to a stable economic economy and foster diversity.

A student presentation followed acknowledging some of the great women who have gone before us; names such as Anne Frank, German born Jewish diarist who suffered life in hiding during the war who had said ‘in spite of everything I still believe that people are good at heart’ and Afghan poet and role model, Rabia Balkhi.

Next up was Madam Mayor of Harrow, Kareema Marikar, Sri Lankan born female, who recalled having once been homeless after her arrival in the UK many years ago. Life had been far from easy and she had suffered domestic violence, been a single mother to three wonderful children and was delighted to have remained positive, built a life, studied in the care sector to become a mental health professional and was proud to achieve first citizen status in Harrow. Madam Mayor shared her respect for her mother; her ideal female role model in the world had been Mother Teresa due to the humble way she had lived and served the community.

Dr Huma Shah of Coventry University delivered an intriguing presentation on her work at the university which included exciting initiatives in Artificial Intelligence such as leading driverless vehicles research and working with Uber on flying taxis! Microsoft had undertaken a study across Europe to ascertain why there were not many females in STEM and results had clearly shown an impact from the lack of female role models. The movie, Hidden figures, had highlighted a role for female scientists. Dr Huma finished with a motivational quote for all the young females present from British author and 2007 Nobel prize winner, Doris Lessing (2007); “whatever you’re meant to do, do it now”.

A brief video featuring Stanmore College staff (men too!) and students sharing their views on how women can perform just as well as men in the working world followed after which Helen Abari, Ambassador for Accounting in 64 countries worldwide, was introduced to all present. Helen’s journey had started in Lagos, Nigeria. She had married young, immigrated to the UK, worked in strenuous low paid jobs while studying to improve life chances and had six children. In 2016, Helen had been awarded IAB International Association of Bookkeeping Honorary membership and won numerous awards since then including IAB Tutor of the Year at the House of Commons. Helen was now also a teacher at Stanmore College and had set up her own practice and her advice was to persevere despite the many challenges women face.

Dr Martina Doolan of the University of Hertfordshire took centre stage with a similar viewpoint sharing George Bernard Shaw’s words with attendees “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing”. Martina had grown up in a family of 11 in a small house in Dublin, Ireland. Coming from a working class background she had immigrated to the UK and had two small children and a low paid job when first in the country. The nearest place to her home where she could improve her education was the University of Hertfordshire where she had started with a HND in Computer Studies enabled by the fact that there had been childcare facilities at the university. Martina had excelled acquiring a BSc, Masters, Doctorate, and was now Principal Lecturer and awarded National Teaching Fellow UK.

Martina advised students not to hang out with people who tell them they can’t do things, it’s important to have self-belief and keep trying. Martina’s chosen quote was that of American Inventor, R. Buckminster Fuller, “We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims”.

Positivity filled the room with smiles all round. The guest speakers were presented with bouquets of flowers from STEM students. Head of School, Vik Seeborun and STEM Ambassador, Alis Flutr Alexei thanked all present and invited attendees to a multi-cultural lunch to round off the celebration.

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