From the world’s first computer programmer Ada Lovelace to Nobel Prize winning chemist Marie Curie, women working in STEM is nothing new. Why then does the percentage of girls taking STEM subjects remain so low? And why are women in tech still in such an extreme minority?
Here, senior business intelligence analyst Gabriela Morales Martinez and security analyst Nicole Stewart share their experiences of working in STEM.
With an undergrad in industrial engineering from Universidad Iberoamericana, a masters in logistics from the University of Sydney and a PHD in information management from Sheffield University, Gabriela joined the team at Jisc last year.
“I’ve come up against my fair share of barriers. One instance that particularly stands out was during a university lecture. The teacher called out our surnames and asked the top performing student to stand up. That was me. But when I stood and repeated my name, he looked amazed at seeing a woman and asked me 'How did you get that?', as though I’d cheated.
"Looking back on that now, I perhaps should have shared my experience, but it was in a time before smart phones and social media. My grades were consistent, but so was his amazement. This of course was years back, 2005 maybe, and I’d hope that those sorts of attitudes aren’t so common anymore. But while I was studying in Mexico City, comments like that were the norm. The idea of hearing a teacher speak to a student like that now is mind boggling, especially in the UK.”
“It’s funny to think now, but one of my high-school teachers, after I told him my plans to go to uni, told me I’d drop out, that I’d never complete my degree. ‘You’ll never see it out. I bet you that you’ll get married and drop out before you graduate’. He said that when he won, as he was certain he would, I’d owe him 20 CDs (which rather dates this story!) and if I won, he’d buy me my wedding cake.
"Avisaí, if you’re reading this… you owe me a cake.”
A grounding in STEM
“My parents suggested I take an undergrad in STEM, as I could always move into the arts/languages for a masters if I wanted. I think that was good advice, get a solid undergrad, as it’s harder to go the other way, taking a STEM masters after an arts degree. Numbers have always made sense to me. I’m a very logical person and have never felt as comfortable with languages as I do with data. I think going into STEM for me was an early, unconscious decision and it's allowed me to access better scholarships and study in different countries.”
And if you’re thinking of a career in STEM…
“My advice to women of any age, is that it’s never too late to begin a career in STEM. You don’t need a certain GCSE or degree, if it’s something that interests you, give it a go. There are so many books, apps, courses out there. I’m part of an amazing group in Bristol called ‘Women's Tech Hub’ that’s really inspiring.
I find it interesting that although coding began as a female dominated industry, it’s now male - and with it the salaries. I’ve been told I sound like a revolutionary, but tech is such a rewarding, interesting area to work in. Let’s not leave it solely to the men.”
Women in tech
Having excelled in STEM subjects throughout school Nicole chose to study maths, further maths, physics and biology at college. After starting a degree apprenticeship at Jisc in digital and technology solutions, she graduated last year and now works in the threat intelligence team.
“The STEM subjects have always been something I really enjoyed. Although I don’t think my school particularly encouraged me into it, and certainly all my female friends went into arts and languages, it always felt a natural route for me. My dad is an electrical engineer, so I always saw it as an interesting and accessible career path.
"During my degree apprentice I worked four days a week with the cyber security team, and then spent my Fridays doing coursework. I’ve really enjoyed my journey with Jisc and hope to continue in the threat intelligence field. During the first year I trialled the various areas within cyber security, and it was the threat intel side that I wanted to pursue.”
Not just a tick box
“A couple of years ago I attended an exam at Airbus where, in a group of around 60, I was one of two girls. It’s a pretty odd situation to find yourself in! I’ve always felt comfortable though, and never felt I’ve been treated differently because of my gender. If anything, people seem to go out of their way to make women feel welcome and appreciated. The only discrimination I’ve seen seems to be positive discrimination. Having said that, that can have its drawbacks. It’s awful to have it suggested that you’ve been given a position due to the fact you're female. It should be based on ability, and I believe in most cases it is. But it’s hard to hear people talk about tick boxes, it’s very reductive.
It’s a fascinating area to work, analysing data around threats and attacks and exploring risk is incredibly rewarding. I hope that in the future the tech workforce will be more balanced and inclusive.”
We are committed to creating greater gender diversity in the tech workforce and are proud to be part of the Tech Talent Charter.
If you are interested in a career in STEM there are lots of opportunities at the new Institutes of Technology. Why not have a look at the courses on offer at Jisc's IoT partners: