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We need to empower women to pave their own pathways in STEM

07 March 2023

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2023, Joanna Kori, Head of People and Nicola Pickering, VP, Customer Success & Delivery, at Encompass Corporation reflect on their STEM journeys, and the importance of inspiring future female leaders.

“My generation did not grow up with technology, so this was not a predicted career for me when I was at school. I become inspired by what technology could enable you to do, which is to stretch your knowledge and increase your capabilities,” said Joanna Kori.

“For me, technology has always been empowering, I equate it with education and financial independence, as well as achieving beyond even your own expectations.

“When reflecting on my journey, I don’t regret the times I stepped into the unknown and tried something new or challenging, particularly in relation to STEM activities and my career path," said Nicola Pickering.

“My only regrets come from when I let self-doubt limit me from taking on new opportunities. Our careers are crafted by our skills and our value but, fundamentally, our careers are also crafted by the opportunities that we seek and accept.”

Women have a crucial role to play in tackling the digital skills gap, providing much-needed technological capabilities that can fuel business growth and drive economic recovery in the UK, which businesses must utilise to enable them to thrive.

Government research highlights that women account for just 29.4 percent of the nation’s STEM workforce. This is a clear underrepresentation in this field, particularly considering the vast proportion of women with an aptitude for tech.

STEM careers are hugely rewarding, and it is vital that organisations facilitate all groups, including women, with job opportunities and progression by providing training, support and clear pathways to make an impact in the industry.

Inspiring our future female leaders
Inspiring women and showcasing the possibilities of technology should be a top priority at all levels, from education institutions to multinational businesses. Technology plays a pivotal role and will act as a catalyst for growth, both now and in the future, so it is essential that the UK builds and maintains a diverse digital workforce to meet this demand.

It is important to acknowledge the work of the UK Government and businesses in support of equality and diversity initiatives, but it is also important to remember that there is still much more to be done. 

Technology is ever-evolving, influencing almost every aspect of our daily lives, so helping people to embrace all that solutions such as automation offer, is key to encouraging women to make it work for them.

STEM careers come in many forms, and will continue to grow as a sector in the coming years, so there is no better time for women to kick-start, or re-start, their careers in technology.

Offering an optimal workplace
Offering an optimal workplace should be considered an essential part of solving the digital skills crisis. Not only must organisations provide opportunities for women to learn and practice digital skills, but they should also focus on building a working environment that caters to the needs of their employees in a way that benefits all parties.

The workplace is more segmented than ever due to the evolution of flexible working, bringing huge benefits in time and cost savings, but can also leave employees feeling isolated. When encouraging women to pursue STEM careers, organisations need to strike the right balance between flexibility and structure, in order to cultivate a supportive culture that allows staff to succeed. 

Each member of staff has different commitments to consider in their working life, whether it be travelling to the office from differing locations or juggling childcare responsibilities, and a flexible company culture is a significant enabler - not only for women in STEM but for everyone.

“I wanted to enjoy co-parenting my daughter and continue making artwork alongside a tech career, so I persuaded companies to contract me as a self-employed home worker and attended client and project meetings in person, where required,” said Joanna Kori. 

“The reliability, speed and quality of my work meant I retained repeat contractual relationships with my clients, and maintained family and studio time for myself,” 

Flexible working is continuously cited as a top requirement for job seekers and, ultimately, organisations must realise the value of – and deliver – a working environment that recognises this while promoting support, training and progression.

Women must carve their own pathways
The career avenues available in STEM are vast – and increasing – and it is certainly encouraging to see how far the UK has come in schools, in terms of expanding opportunities, and instilling in girls to have no limits in what they pursue.

Celebrating female role models and real-life success stories undoubtedly plays a large role in this process, too, by inspiring girls from a young age.

“I see the excitement daily as I watch my children embark on their education journeys, and it gives me so much hope and positivity for the future. There is so much possibility to achieve in the tech industry and, with the evolution of flexible working, inclusion is greater than ever before,” said Nicola Pickering.

The onus is also on women to seek out, step forward and accept opportunities in STEM. Careers are built on opportunities, as well as skills and knowledge, so women should grab chances in the industry with both hands and carve their own success story.

Part of this includes being open and honest about how a particular STEM career works around their personal life, in order to prevent jobs from becoming unsustainable and unfulfilling. 

Research from Deloitte shows that burnout is a leading cause of resignations across the globe, which underlines the fact that a healthy work-life balance is vital to getting the most out of a career.

While awareness of the vital role that women have to play in the future of technology is on the rise, it is key that we see people continuing to break down perceived barriers, and that businesses provide tangible opportunities to all. 

Women will undoubtedly play a leading role in solving one of the UK’s most pressing issues, so it’s time to give them the tools in their outstretched hands. 

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