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Encouraging women and girls into STEM

13 March 2017

Women in lab

On Monday, 13 March, leaders from business, academia and the Welsh Government, will join forces at the Senedd, Cardiff to tackle head on the lack of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) in Wales, in the presence of HRH The Princess Royal and Julie James, Minister for Skills and Science.

The WISE Celebration of Talented Women brings together ministers, academics, businesses and schools who are backing the Welsh Government commissioned report to address STEM skills shortages by getting more women and girls into science, technology and engineering.

Talented Women for a Successful Wales was commissioned by Professor Julie Williams, Chief Scientific Adviser for Wales, who will chair a Q&A with industry leaders on the day.

Professor Julie Williams

Professor Julie Williams

Director, Dementia Research Institute

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The report highlights challenges in education – which range from few primary school teachers having STEM backgrounds to the poor take-up of girls studying physics and computer science A-Levels – and in the workplace, leading to women working in less than one in six STEM jobs.

Helen Wollaston, chief executive of the WISE campaign which organised the event and which campaigns for gender balance in STEM, said: “Wales has an impressive number of female scientists in top positions, including the Chief Scientific Adviser and the newly appointed deputy vice chancellor at Cardiff University. They are living proof that choosing science opens doors. Today’s event is an opportunity for us all to work with the Welsh Government, education and industry to get a positive message out to the next generation of girls in Wales and their families, inspiring them to choose science, technology and engineering for a brighter future.”

The report was co-chaired by Professor Karen Holford, newly appointed deputy vice-chancellor of Cardiff University and Professor Hilary Lappin-Scott, senior pro-vice-chancellor of research and innovation at Swansea University. Both universities have plans in place to close their gender gaps which could be worth an extra £8m in research grants in Wales.

Professor Karen M Holford

Professor Karen M Holford


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“We have a ‘leaky pipeline’ when it comes to women and academic careers,” says Lappin-Scott, “More girls than boys are studying science at degree level but this huge pool of talent is ‘leaking away’ as men’s and women’s careers progress.” Swansea University’s plans include targets for a 50:50 gender balance on all the institution’s senior committees by 2020.

Cardiff University has plans in place to encourage further recruitment and career progression for female academics. Already seven out of 12 executive board members are women, above average for top UK universities.

Holford explains a programme to help female academic staff: “Participants spend time with a member of the university executive board for a very honest Q&A on their career path and share how they managed challenges. The feedback has been hugely positive and has motivated many colleagues to successfully apply for promotion.”

Women inspecting equipment in lab

At the event Royal patron of WISE, HRH The Princess Royal will meet 50 girls from eight Welsh schools taking part in People Like Me sessions. These allow girls to define themselves by adjectives – such as organised, creative or friendly. They then relate their personality types to careers in STEM and discuss these with young women working in STEM jobs.

Panel discussions include Trudy Norris-Grey, chair of WISE and MD, worldwide business development at Microsoft, Helen Samuels, director of engineering at Network Rail, La-Chun Lindsay, MD at GE Aviation Wales, Sharon James, Senior Vice President R&D, RB (Reckitt Benckiser), Chris Jones, chief executive of Welsh Water and Helen Wollaston. Professor Julie Williams will moderate the panel, sharing best practice examples to achieve more women in STEM, from recruiting students to putting women on boards.

Encouraging women into STEM makes economic sense, says Julie James, Minister for Skills and Science: “The under-representation of women in the STEM workforce is a critical issue for Wales. The recommendations in the ‘Talented Women for a Successful Wales’ report go some way to try and address this need and everyone has a role to play to encouraging more women and girls to pursue STEM opportunities and careers.”

HRH The Princess Royal will meet students from St Julian’s School, Newport; Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni - Heol Gelli Haf, Blackwood; Blackwood Comprehensive School, Lliswerry High School, Newport; Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Plasmawr, Cardiff; Ysgol Gyfun Bro Morgannwg, Barry; Rhymney Comprehensive, Tredegar; Ebbw Fawr Learning Community, Ebbw Vale and Cynffig Comprehensive, Bridgend.

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