At EDF Energy, we want to address the lack of women taking up careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.
It’s not just an equality issue – our business relies on talented people and a lack of interest from girls in these subjects could lead to a serious shortage of skills in the future.
Women under-represented in STEM
According to WISE (a campaign to inspire girls and women to study and build careers using science and maths-related subjects), only one in seven people working in science, technology and engineering and maths in the UK today is a woman. What’s more, Institute for Public Policy Research shows that many girls give up on these subjects by the time they reach 16.
One of the things we’re doing to encourage girls in to these subjects from an early age is to engage with them when they’re still at secondary school. For example, we run an award-winning educational programme called ‘the Pod’ with 19,500 schools. We also have our ‘Inspire’ programme in Somerset where we’ve connected with over 70,000 local children to help them understand the world of science, technology, engineering and maths.
Through these programmes we’ve seen girls and boys of all ages get involved (and be fascinated) by these subjects. But when it comes to our apprenticeship and graduate trainee programmes, over 93% of applicants are male.
An industry-wide problem
This shortage of women isn’t just at EDF Energy – it’s an industry-wide problem. However, thanks to the efforts of organisations working in this area the situation is gradually improving. But according to Engineering UK Britain faces an annual shortfall of 55,000 people with engineering skills.
Finding a fresh approach
We’re not the first organisation to ask why this is happening. And we freely admit that we don’t have all the answers. That said, we believe we have a right and a responsibility to be part of the solution.
So we’re looking for new ways to boost the numbers.
We believe that the way to get more girls and young women interested in these subjects is to give them the chance to experience them in new ways. We also want to showcase successful women who are already working in the industry.
Changing perceptions of our industry
For this situation to improve the first thing we need to do is change people’s perceptions about careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.
Because according to our recent YouGov survey, almost a third of teenage girls don’t think they’re clever enough for a career in science – even though it’s one of girls’ favourite subjects at school.
What ‘Pretty Curious’ is all about
We’ve designed the campaign ‘Pretty Curious’ to get teenagers and their families to connect with an issue they might not be thinking about otherwise.
We appreciate the name might be controversial for some – but we chose it to highlight the stereotypes that are often applied to teenage girls. We want to focus on personality and emphasise some of the key attributes that are important for careers in science and technology – things like being curious, creative and focused.
We’re not saying you have to be ‘pretty’ to be ‘curious’.
Or that you have to be ‘pretty’ and ‘curious’ to have an interest in this area.
What we are saying is that being ‘pretty curious’ about the world around you can open up lots of new opportunities.
Raising awareness of female role models
We want to appeal to girls who might not realise that these types of careers also need people who are creative, entrepreneurial and collaborative – not just those who are logical or analytical.
So we looked for women who could show how an interest in science, technology, engineering and maths can lead to a diverse range of careers to – from starting your own business, to designing new technologies, to creating solutions to everyday engineering challenges.
We hope that by connecting teenage girls with women who’ve taken different career paths, we can challenge preconceptions about where these subjects could take them.
Take Jenny Griffiths, founder and CEO of app Snap Fashion, for example. She’s a computer scientist and software engineer, not a fashion designer.
Or cosmetic scientist and campaign role model, Florence Adepoju.
At school, she was interested in science and technology, and art and design, and thought she’d have to choose one or the other – either becoming a pharmacist or a doctor, or a fashion designer or illustrator. She never thought she’d be able to combine both skills and passions in a career.
By showcasing women like Jenny and Florence who are driving the science and technology behind an app on a teenage girl’s phone or a new brand of cosmetics, we’re aiming to spark curiosity about careers they might not have considered before.
Giving girls access to hands-on experiences
To show the accessible side of science and engineering, we’re using practical, hands-on experiences.
One of the ways we’re doing this is by piloting one-day workshops that challenge teenage girls to create a life-size ‘smart’ bedroom using Littlebits electronic kits. By using simple coding, 3D printers and laser cutters, they can create real technological solutions and get a taste for the creative and rewarding problem-solving processes that a career in science, technology, engineering and maths can give them.
We’ll be holding these workshops at our nuclear power station visitor centres across the country.
We’re not just doing live sessions – we’ll also be running online activities on the Pretty Curious website.
We feel that this campaign is a step in the right direction to tackle the serious issues of female underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering and maths.
Because it’s not only a critical issue for us as a business – it’s one for the UK as a whole.
And we’re pretty serious about changing that.