'I strongly believe that to encourage young females to enter the STEM careers they need role models that they can relate to' | Portsmouth High School On International Women's Day, science teacher Dr Sarah Filer looks at the importance of encouraging young women in STEM careers.

‘I strongly believe that to encourage young females to enter the STEM careers they need role models that they can relate to’

Over the last few weeks we have celebrated both International Women’s Day and International Women and Girls in Science Day.

To celebrate these events I wanted to highlight to the students of Portsmouth High School the importance of encouraging females to consider STEM careers. Having been a female scientist in a male dominant environment in my previous career, I have always been very aware of the under representation of females within these careers. I still vividly remember the single female lecturer on my undergraduate course. Fortunately, by the time I left my research career the situation had improved with many more females gaining doctorates and undertaking research careers, however, females were still under represented in senior roles. Once entering the teaching profession, it was partly my passion to inspire females that led me to working at PHS, a school where I knew I would be able to have the most impact.

Today the figures are encouraging for science. The most recent data shows that approximately 45% of science roles are occupied by women and this percentage is increasing year on year. However, the figures are not so encouraging for all STEM careers with women making up less than 25% of the workforce.

So what can we do?  A very crude and simple Google ™ image search for all STEM careers suggests that social media is doing its bit to reduce the gender gap. All searches, with the exception of physicists, showed females in at least 50% of the images. Schools have days to celebrate women in science and it is often at the forefront of media discussions. However, I believe more needs to be done.

If you ask students and the general public alike to name a famous female scientist most will be able to name at least one (I’ll let you guess who that would be). However, how many could name a female scientist who is changing the world today? There are plenty but unlike their male counterparts they are not prominent media figures.

I strongly believe that to encourage young females to enter the STEM careers they need role models that they can relate to. I am not denying that our history is important and these historical female scientists deserve to be celebrated, however if we wish to encourage more females to enter STEM professions they need to see females as common place in these careers. Schools are in a prime position to highlight the fantastic work of female scientists today and not just of the past. I know I will be thinking hard about how I can showcase the work of females in STEM more often throughout my teaching and not just on special days throughout the year.

Dr Sarah Filer
Science Teacher