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Opportunities in STEM Q4 2023

Why girls in STEM need to find the right community and mentors

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Beth Clarke

Software Engineer, ROSEN

Role models have a transformational impact on girls headed for STEM careers. However, they need more than that, says award-winning software engineer Beth Clarke.

Women make up 26% of the core-STEM workforce — a number that may be even less without the presence of role models shining a torch for the next generation.

Gender inequality prevailing in STEM

As young girls arise from the education system and head enthusiastically for the UK workforce, it can’t be denied that they’re heading into a world decades deep in gender inequality. Even if they’ve been inspired to study STEM subjects (another problem in itself), they may find themselves on a slanted path that, even in 2023, favours their male counterparts.

What can be done to get more girls into STEM careers?

Beth Clarke, a software engineer working for ROSEN, says that she didn’t have immediate role models growing up. However, without them in education, she may not have been as successful in her career.

“I was the first in my family to go to university, so when I was completing applications, I didn’t have many role models to look up to for guidance. I just knew I wanted to study science and space,” she says. “I had an AS Physics teacher who was the first person who took me seriously that I wanted to DO physics, not teach physics. He listened to me and saw potential. Without that experience, I don’t know if I would’ve had the confidence to pursue it further.”

The single, biggest and most important thing in my career is finding like-minded people.

Beth Clarke

Finding a supportive community

Beth, 26, started her career as software test lead and engineer at Capgemini Engineering and was vice chair of the WISE Young Professionals Board until March 2023, which aims to get more girls and women into STEM.

She has been recognised as a rising star in technology by the IET as a finalist in the 2020 Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards, Computer Weekly as a Rising Star winner in 2021 and by everywoman In Technology as their 2023 Rising Star award winner.

Beth points out that role models are crucial for young girls considering STEM careers, but also says that there’s more to it. “The single, biggest and most important thing in my career is finding like-minded people. You will often find yourself alone in a room with people NOT like you, so you need your people, your network, your teachers, friends — a community of people who get you.

“Girls need role models, but they also need a community to keep them upright — to challenge bad decisions as well as sing their praises and support you on a bad day. It’s important to create your army.”

Mentee to mentor: having the right guidance

Led by her mentors, Beth has now become a mentor herself and says it’s crucial for girls to have more than one in their network in order to succeed. “Perhaps one mentor for the soft skills and leadership side, and another for more technical advice.

“I work with WISE CEO Kay Hussain on a mentoring programme, and she’s been a massive source of inspiration for me. She’s shown me the different paths available to me and helps me identify areas for growth and development.

“Nicola Martin, an incredible software testing expert, is my other mentor who gives me more technical and hard skills guidance and gets me involved in and connected with other technical communities like BCS’s Software Testing Special Interest Group (SIGiST), where I’m now a committee member.” She adds: “Having this combination of mentors and my supportive network around me has created an environment for my success and helped me become who I am today.”

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