WISE (Women into Science and Engineering) is a social enterprise committed to promoting female talent in science, engineering and technology. Development Director Mhairi Crawford tells us how it’s encouraging girls to consider STEM careers
What are the aims of WISE in relation to children and young people?
WISE is an organisation committed to improve gender balance in STEM. To do this, we need to support women already working in STEM roles, bring women back to STEM roles, help them retrain if they want to move towards a STEM role, and guide more young people towards STEM careers. What this means for children and young people is that we want to encourage girls to look at the huge breadth of options open to them and consider where a career in STEM could take them. Often, children and young people (and their parents/carers) don’t know what’s out there – just think of the breadth of job roles that didn’t previously exist and the impact these have on society and the environment.
What sort of activities does your work encompass?
WISE has a specific programme for young people, called People Like Me. It’s a session aimed at girls to help raise awareness and aspirations, and is delivered by WISE members, STEM ambassadors, teachers and career advisers. The aim of the resource is to help KS3 and KS4 girls understand where they might fit in the world of work by self-identifying with a range of adjectives that match to a personality type. From this, they can explore job roles and meet people who have the same type as them so they can interact with women who are doing this already. Often, it introduces girls to job roles they may never have heard of.
How has the programme been received in schools?
People Like Me is a little bit special in that it comes from a research background – it’s based on evidence, is extensively trialled and we’ve just published an independent evaluation of the programme. We’ve shown that after just one session, 57% of girls are more interested in STEM than before and only 4% are less or not interested in STEM.
This resource has been designed for teachers, company outreach and STEM ambassadors, and includes clear lesson plans to deliver sessions in schools. One of its strengths is that companies can bring in women who were just like the girls they are working with – strengthening that People Like Me bond.
What online resources are available for schools through WISE?
All the People Like Me resources are available for download from wisecampaign.org.uk/people-like-me. We are also developing a new online portal for girls that will launch in the autumn. This is the electronic version of the resource and will include new information about different job roles, as well as the pathways into them through role model stories. It will allow girls to find out more about local companies and the types of people who work there.
Your focus is on encouraging girls/young women to work in STEM. To what extent do you work with boys/young men too?
If you look at diversity, gender is the biggest split – we’re roughly 50:50 in the overall population but only 24% of women work in STEM. That’s why we focus on women and supporting girls and young women to explore their options for STEM careers.
That said, boys and men are key in helping us achieve our aims. If men or women think that certain roles are gendered (eg it’s a man’s job) then it makes it harder for women to succeed in those roles. It’s something called unconscious bias and it’s important we challenge and change the perceptions that young boys and men have about careers for women. At WISE we have various initiatives and projects that include input from men.
How does WISE’s work adapt to different age groups?
We are currently looking at developing resources for primary school children. The current resource has been used with girls as young as 8 years old!
Can you tell us how the WISE organisation is funded?
We’re funded through our members and sponsors. As a not-for-profit organisation we re-invest in developing resources such as People Like Me to help change the balance for the future.
Tell us about your regional hubs
Regional hubs allow us to have a concentrated impact in particular areas. WISE is a small core team so hubs are key to allow us to reach more people and have a bigger impact. The regional hubs focus on particular projects and initiatives that are relevant to the area they are set up in. They can effectively engage and mobilise our membership organisations that are based around the UK.
What impact has WISE had on schools and STEM?
Our People Like Me resources are used throughout the UK in various settings. STEM ambassadors run sessions in school and we are equipping companies with tools to enable them to work with schools. So far we’ve engaged with 6,000 girls and through our new online platform we’re looking to reach 200,000 over the next five years!
Are there any criteria a school needs to meet to qualify for support?
No, all schools that have female pupils can get in touch.
How can school leaders get more information on projects that are applicable to them?
Abbot Hill School, Hemel Hempstead: Around 30 pupils from Years 9 and 10 and their mothers (or female supporters) attended a ‘People Like Me’ evening. The event was an exploration of the girls themselves and their future careers. The evening was supported by nine women working in a variety of STEM-related environments who answered questions and described their experiences. This allowed pupils a unique opportunity to explore a series of working environments and training routes.
Ormiston Academy, Aveley: Year 9 and 10 female students took part in a ‘People Like Me’ workshop on qualifications and career routes in science. The session was delivered by female representatives from local and national organisations, including a civil engineer, events organiser and sports science students, who all gave up their time to speak to pupils. The session was aimed at female students who had demonstrated excellent progress or attainment in science and were thinking about pursuing A-level science courses, or would consider a career in a STEM-related subject.
In 2017, the Leeds Apprenticeship Awareness project aimed to engage girls in science, technology and manufacturing apprenticeships. These included higher level, degree, Level 2 and 3 apprenticeships and traineeships. WISE first engaged local employers with a session where they could learn about the business case for encouraging more women into the STEM workplace with practical tools and guidance. This was followed by three school ‘People Like Me’ sessions involving 88 girls from Allerton High School, Woodkirk Academy and Ruth Gorse Academy, to raise awareness among mothers and daughters. The girls, ranging from 11 to 14 years old, were then invited on site visits with local employer to find out more.
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