29 Sep 15
Corporate

Smart enough for science? A third of British girls don’t think they are despite it being one of their favourite subjects

New programme by EDF Energy - #PrettyCurious – aims to change teenage girls’ perceptions of science and inspire them to pursue science-based careers

  • Research commissioned by EDF Energy reveals that 32% of girls aged between 11 and 16 do not think they are clever enough to become a scientist
  • Boys are five times more likely than girls to want to be engineers, despite evidence that many girls enjoy science at school
  • Results demonstrate a lack of female role models in science careers with less than a third of girls knowing a woman that works in a science or engineering-based job
  • EDF Energy is working with Liz Bonnin, Florence Adepoju, Jenny Griffiths and its own employees, to provide inspirational role models for young girls in the UK

 

A new study1 released today by EDF Energy, to mark the launch of its #PrettyCurious campaign, has found that a third (32%) of girls in the UK aged 11 to 16 don’t think they are smart enough to become a scientist. That’s despite science being one of the subjects they enjoyed most (28%) and performed best in at school (38%) over the past academic year2.

Many girls are not taking their passion and aptitude for science-based subjects beyond school and don’t see its relevance to their careers, with boys the same age five times more likely to want to pursue a career in engineering (20% vs. 4%). As well as worrying they aren’t smart enough to be a scientist, other barriers for girls are revealed to be;

  • That they are unsure what they can do with a science qualification (17%)
  • They feel they are too creative to go into science (15%)
  • They believe companies who employ scientists would prefer to employ men (13%)

The study reveals young girls also have a lack of visible role models, with less than one in three (29%) knowing a female relative, friend, family friend or other women that work in a science and engineering-based job. Within their wider sphere of influence, the girls surveyed primarily named males when asked to name an inspirational scientist, with only Marie Curie (12%) and Rosalind Franklin (1%) featuring in the top ten, after Stephen Hawking (21%) and Albert Einstein (18%)3.

The EDF Energy #PrettyCurious campaign
 

The research, carried out by YouGov1, was commissioned to mark the launch of EDF Energy’s #PrettyCurious programme, which will introduce teenage girls to role models they can identify with, who each have varied and rewarding careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). These
include:

  • Liz Bonnin: biochemist, wild animal biologist & TV presenter
  • Jenny Griffiths: computer scientist, founder & CEO of fashion app SNAP Fashion
  • Florence Adepoju: cosmetic scientist and founder of makeup brand MDMflow
  • EDF Energy’s own female employees including Bethany Thomas, a reactor chemistry engineer

EDF Energy has collaborated with these role models to create engaging content that demonstrates to teenage girls the breadth of career opportunities available to them and inspires them to pursue science-based subjects at school.

 

Commenting on EDF Energy’s #PrettyCurious programme, Liz Bonnin said: "Both girls and boys enjoy and show great aptitude in STEM subjects at school but at some point many girls seem to disengage with them. There is no area of our lives that isn't affected by science meaning that there’s a STEM subject and career out there for everyone, whether you're analytical or more creative. It’s important that we support today's young people, nurturing their curiosity, encouraging them to pursue their passion and find the right fit for them, so that in the future they can embark on fulfilling and exciting careers and help shape the world around them.”

 

Fiona Jackson, Head of Strategic Resourcing at EDF Energy, said: “There is a critical under-representation of women in STEM-related careers, yet we know that girls do enjoy science-based subjects at school. Young women are struggling to understand how they can apply that passion to their future careers and lack real-life examples of women that work in exciting and stimulating professions. Science and engineering is for anyone who is curious about the world around them and how things work and who enjoys working collaboratively and creatively in a team to overcome a challenge. Our #PrettyCurious campaign will inspire girls to consider a science-based career and help to improve their career options. It’s part of a long-term commitment from EDF Energy to improve the ratio of women to men in the company as well as inspire 100,000 young people into science.”

 

Helen Wollaston, Director of WiSE added: “This is a great campaign to overcome the psychological barriers which stop so many girls from ever thinking they might want to pursue a STEM career. We have to show how STEM relates to things which they care about, give them a chance to meet women close to their own age who love what they do to spark their interest and enthusiasm and then support them to make the first step towards a career in science, technology, engineering or maths. I hope that WISE and EDF Energy will combine forces to reach girls across the UK.”

 

The #PrettyCurious programme will also inspire teenage girls by creating hands-on experiences and EDF Energy will pilot a series of events across the UK later this year4. These one-day sessions will challenge young girls to create a life-size ‘smart’ bedroom using ‘Littlebits’ electronic kits. A digital version of these sessions will also be available for girls to access at any time from the #PrettyCurious microsite and workshops will be held at EDF Energy’s nuclear power station visitor centres across the country.

 

A film about the campaign will also launch online and in cinemas across the UK later this Autumn.

 

For more information about the EDF Energy #PrettyCurious campaign, please visit www.edfenergy.com/prettycurious/girlsintoscience.

Notes to editors

For further information, contact the EDF Energy team at Red Consultancy on

edfenergyteam@redconsultancy.com or 020 7025 6692

1: YouGov research data

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2,167 children aged 11 to 16, who were in Key Stage 3 or 4 last school year (i.e. 2014/15), of which 1,127 were boys and 1,040 were girls. Fieldwork was undertaken from 7th-19th August 2015. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK children (aged 11 to 16).

 

Additional research findings:

2: The top 15 subjects 11-16 year old girls enjoyed most during the past school year:

1

Art and design

33%

2

English

31%

3

Science

28%

4

History

26%

5

Maths

24%

6

Drama

22%

7

Design and technology (e.g. food technology, resistant materials, graphics, etc.)

21%

8

Music

19%

9

Physical education (PE)

18%

10

Modern foreign languages (e.g. German, French, Spanish, etc.)

17%

11

Geography

14%

12

Computing (ICT)

13%

13

Religious education (RE)

11%

14

Business studies

3%

15

Citizenship

2%

 

2: The top 15 subjects 11-16 year old girls think they performed best in during the past school year:

1

English

52%

2

Maths

42%

3

Science

38%

4

History

28%

5

Art and design

27%

6

Modern foreign languages (e.g. German, French, Spanish, etc.)

25%

7

Geography

21%

8

Religious education (RE)

18%

9

Music

18%

10

Drama

16%

11

Design and technology (e.g. food technology, resistant materials, graphics, etc.)

15%

12

Computing (ICT)

15%

13

Physical education (PE)

14%

14

Citizenship

5%

15

Business studies

4%

 

Lifetime achievements: More than a quarter (27%) of girls say that, from a list, they would most like to invent something as impactful and life changing as the plane or steam engine during their lifetime. As a sign of the times, the study also shows that some others are more interested in pop stars than changing the world, with one in ten (9%) admitting they would most like to meet boy band One Direction or win Britain's Got Talent (8%) while only 7% would most like to develop the theory of relativity.

 

3: Inspirational scientists named by 11-16 year old girls (unprompted, taken to two decimal places, and not including general professions):

1

Stephen Hawking

21%

2

Albert Einstein

18%

3

Marie Curie

12%

4

Brian Cox

11%

5

Isaac Newton

8%

6

Charles Darwin

4%

7

Alexander Fleming

2%

8

Galileo Galilei

1%

9

Rosalind Franklin

1%

10

Thomas Edison

1%

 

4: Pretty Curious pilot events

  • 15 October 2015 – The Science Museum, London
  • 3 November 2015 – Glasgow Science Centre, Glasgow
  • 25 November 2015 – At-Bristol Science Centre, Bristol

 

Additional quotes from #PrettyCurious campaign role models

 

Jenny Griffiths: “Technology and science are going to take us places we never could have imagined in future. It’s therefore so important that both men and women have an influence over its development and how it affects our daily lives and bring a fresh perspective to technology and new innovations.

 

Studying Computer Science enabled me to develop the skills to invent my own fashion-finding app for men and women. I feel so lucky to be able to code and run my business during the day and attend events such as London Fashion Week in the evenings. I’d seriously recommend girls keep their options open and studying science or technology so we can all play a part in making everyday objects better and better and continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible.”

 

Florence Adepoju: “Science is incredible – it underpins everything we do as human beings and is the reason the world works, so it’s surprising that people still believe that science careers are boring or lacking in creativity. Ultimately, everyone should be encouraged to think that anything is possible and they can achieve their goals, regardless of their gender.

 

Having studied Cosmetic Science, I’ve managed to find a career in science which combines the creativity that I would have found in working in the fashion or beauty industries, but also ensures I use the more technical, analytical side of my brain. I would encourage all girls to look beyond traditional subjects when choosing what to study – you might just discover the perfect job you didn’t even know existed.”

 

Bethany Thomas: “I visited my old secondary school a few months ago, to talk about my career. I was approached by a female student who said that she didn’t know whether to continue her studies in science or in the arts, as she was concerned that science may be ‘too difficult.’ My advice was that science is definitely not out of anyone’s grasp. It’s amazing how much you can do when you get to grips with things. I never thought I’d be in the position I am now and I’m amazed with the things I’ve achieved.”

EDF Energy

EDF Energy is one of the UK’s largest energy companies and the largest producer of low-carbon electricity, producing around one-fifth of the nation's electricity from its nuclear power stations, wind farms, coal and gas power stations and combined heat and power plants. The company supplies gas and electricity to 6 million business and residential customer accounts and is the biggest supplier of electricity by volume in Great Britain.

EDF Energy’s safe and secure operation of its eight existing nuclear power stations at sites across the country makes it the UK’s largest generator of low carbon electricity. EDF Energy is also leading the UK's nuclear renaissance and has published plans to build four new nuclear plants, subject to the right investment framework.

These new plants could generate enough low carbon electricity for about 40% of Britain’s homes. They would make an important contribution to the UK’s future needs for clean, secure and affordable energy. The project is already creating business and job opportunities for British companies and workers.

Through Our Better Energy Ambitions, EDF Energy has developed one of the biggest environmental and social programmes of any British energy company.

In 2014 EDF Energy received seven ‘Big Ticks’ in the Business in the Community (BITC) Responsible Business Awards. In 2013 EDF Energy received the Environmental Leadership for Behavioural Change Award in the national Environment and Energy Awards and was highly commended in the first ever pan European Corporate Social Responsibility Awards scheme for its Sustainable Schools programme – the Pod.

EDF Energy is part of EDF Group, one of Europe’s largest power companies. The company employs around 15,000 people at locations across the UK.

To find out more about the UK's energy challenges look at www.edfenergy.com/energyfuture/