Catherine Stewart, Head of Business Change - ITS, at Deloitte UK, has been volunteering to talk in Deloitte Access schools as part of our social impact strategy, One Million Futures. So far, she has reached out to more than 350 girls to help change their futures.
When I left school there were few role models to inspire me to become a woman in technology. But I was lucky. I had a natural aptitude and, along with my passion to learn, have enjoyed an amazing career that has taken me all over the world.
That is why I was so sad to discover that so little has changed since I took my GCSEs. The next generation has a lot of role models but we don't hear enough about them.
As a result, only 9 per cent of the girls who take STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths – at GCSE today will go on to qualify in this area (according to WISE campaign analysis of government statistics). With STEM driving much of the jobs growth in the UK, attracting more women to these roles is vital – not just to secure them the best future, but to ensure that skills gaps are met.
When I discovered these statistics, I looked at my 11-year-old daughter and realised that unless change happens, she faces a future where there are still “jobs for the boys” and yet another generation of women will earn less than men over their working lives.
But it was only when I read a City AM article written by Emma Codd (Deloitte UK Managing Partner for Talent) on STEM being the key to addressing the gender pay gap, that I found a way to really make a difference.
So, along with a group of other STEM women in Deloitte, I have been volunteering with the ‘People like Me’ initiative, to inspire the next generation of girls to consider STEM careers. The programme, designed by Professor Averil MacDonald of the University of Southampton, brings workshops to schools to address the lack of girls in STEM by showing them that women with similar personality traits and aptitudes are happy and successful working in these male-dominated sectors.
So far, I have delivered workshops to around 350 girls in a dozen schools. Just being there talking about how varied a STEM career can be, and all the interesting and exciting things I have done – such as my posting to Brussels when I was just 23, and my senior role today - proves the point.
What continues to shock me is the lack of confidence in so many girls who feel that if they are not perfect at something, then they cannot do it. This is why I always mention that I left school at 16 with only five GCSEs all at Grade C - and I have an incredibly fulfilling career.
Yet inspiring them can still be a challenge. Many of the most interesting (and well paid) jobs are ones they know nothing about. We all know what a teacher does, but what about a solutions architect? So, I point out that the job I do was not invented when I left school and the pace of innovation means that the same will apply to them too. Some 65 per cent of future STEM jobs don’t even exist yet.
There is still a long way to go to address the gender divide in STEM, but one girl at a time we are making progress.
After one workshop, I was handed a handwritten note saying “you inspired me to be an engineer”.
It makes volunteering my time so worthwhile.