I was at an event recently where a heavily pregnant Ashley Asdourian introduced the main speaker. Emblazoned across her t-shirt were the words ‘Forget Princess, she wants to be a DEVELOPER!’ – it made me smile.
There is a lot written concerning the low numbers of women going into STEM roles. Most articles I have read conclude that young girls need female role models to prove that it really isn’t such a bad career choice. Whenever I finish reading one of those articles I am left feeling a bit deflated, the whole ‘girls need role models’ thing always feels like an anti-climax. Today, after reading another one, it hit me why – I didn’t have any role models when I was a young girl.
Maybe I was different – I still strive to do the opposite to what people expect me to do. I managed to make a career in IT without role models to aspire to. Or, maybe life is different today – young girls are exposed to role models for every aspect of their lives telling them what to wear, how to do their makeup etc. Perhaps they cannot make their own minds up without seeing somebody ‘famous’ doing it first? This seems a little too simplistic for such a complex issue.
When I take a step back though, I find that I did have role models: my family. One of my earliest memories comes from my pre-school days. I was out with my mother at age 4 and we spotted a robin in the tree. That meant that I could put a sticky star on the chart when we got home. That ‘game’ included several scientific tasks – but it’s only now as I write this that it’s clear. There is the science of natural history and bird spotting; the data gathering and the visual representation of the data in the chart. A short leap to my current role as a BI developer, maybe that’s what sparked the interest.
I have a father who loves maths (he still has his old maths log books and drawing tools). He jumped at the chance to help me with my homework at every opportunity. My maths homework was never a chore. I had a mother who encouraged me to use my logical brain – we used to sit working our way through books of logic problems and watching ‘Quincy’ on the television, talking about how I could be a forensic scientist – all before I was 10 years old. We moved on to cryptic crosswords when those logic problems got too easy! I spent my childhood playing with Lego and Meccano, both regarded as boys toys in the mid-1970s. Exciting Christmas presents included a calculator, a chemistry set and a microscope. I was lucky.
The job I do today didn’t even exist when I was a young girl at school and that will always be the case in the fast-moving world we live in. More role models for girls would, I am sure, be a good thing. But I am convinced this starts at home. In the same way that you do not need to be an Olympic athlete to produce a young athlete you do not have to be a rocket scientist to encourage children to be curious. You just need to help them pursue their natural curiosity, whether that be in a STEM subject or not. One thing I will always be grateful for – my parents did not want a princess either.