Ada Lovelace Day: 'FE will attract girls into Stem'

On Ada Lovelace Day 2020, this principal says that gender stereotyping in career and learning choices will be eliminated
13th October 2020, 4:44pm


Ada Lovelace Day: 'FE will attract girls into Stem'
Ada Lovelace Day 2020: Fe Will Attract Girls Into Stem

It's Ada Lovelace Day 2020 and colleges like West Lothian College are ADAmant that we will attract more girls and women into science, engineering, technology and maths.

We are working with schools, employers and national organisations to raise awareness of opportunities for women in Stem sectors, encourage take-up of Stem courses by girls and women, and help students succeed on their courses.

Many people argue that there has never been a better time to be a woman in Stem. There are tens of thousands of high-value, high-quality jobs in sectors like digital and engineering. Employers don't just need women to fill these jobs, they want them because of the skills they bring. 

Long read: The Stem Centre that boosts cross-college collaboration

More: 4 ways to get more black students in Stem

Background: Stem learning has a bright future and an important past

But, we have a problem.

Celebrating the pioneering but unknown women

The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe. The proportion of young women taking Stem subjects at school, college and university is stubbornly low. And, incredibly, there is a smaller proportion of women studying and working in computing and digital technology now than when I was a computing graduate 30 years ago. 

Yet, throughout history, women have played an important role in Stem. It's important to recognise women from the past and present to stake our claim in this exciting world. Days like Ada Lovelace Day are about celebrating the pioneering but often unknown or forgotten work of women in fields like computing.

Women like Ada Lovelace, the mother of programming born 200 years ago, who wrote the first-ever computer programme a century before computers were even invented! Unlike her mentor Charles Babbage, whose analytical engine was the forerunner of the physical computer, Ada had the foresight to imagine that computers could create images and music, and not just do complicated sums.

Women like Scottish mathematician Mary Somerville born in 1780 who, despite living in an age when women were discouraged from studying science, is credited with an instrumental role in the discovery of Neptune. 

Women like Florence Nightingale, well known for her dedication to injured soldiers during the Crimean War, but less famous for her mathematical ability. Her analysis of large amounts of data, presented visually, demonstrated that significantly more men were dying from preventable diseases in hospital than wounds inflicted in battle. This led to the government allocating funds to improve the cleanliness of hospitals. Hundreds of years before "big data", "data scientist" and "data visualisation" became hot topics, Florence was the real deal. 

Eliminating gender stereotyping in career choices

It is not just rich, privileged women who have made an impact over the centuries. Jeannie Riley, one of many Glasgow female munitions workers during the First World War, dreamed of becoming an engineer. Sadly, when men returned from the trenches, the aspirations of women like Jeanie were denied when they had to give up their jobs in industry.

Tomorrow's women in Stem are the girls in today's nursery, primary and secondary schools who are connecting to engineering, science, construction and technology through activities led by colleges like my own.

We remain ADAmant that we will eliminate gender stereotyping in career and learning choices, and that we will encourage more girls and women to embark on exciting Stem courses and careers.

Jackie Galbraith is the principal and chief executive at West Lothian College

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