This Christmas, there was a new gift under the tree in thousands of houses. A doll. There’s nothing new in dolls – little girls and little boys have been playing with them since time began, but this one was different. Lottie was designed to be different. She is an astronaut; a doctor; she is a teacher and a karate master. She rides ponies and she rides scooters; and in one version she recites a series of phrases about the world of science and technology while wearing a lab coat and clutching a microscope. She was quite literally the first doll in space – taken into space by Major Tim Peake earlier this year.
She stands on her own two feet – in all senses of that phrase.
Lottie’s appearance isn’t a coincidence – it comes from a broader desire from adults everywhere to show their daughters that there is a world of infinite variety in front of them and it isn’t limited to the careers that women have traditionally done.
If science teaches us one thing it is a healthy respect for the facts – and the truth is that not enough women work in the STEM industries. And it starts young – at A level only one in six students taking physics are girls. By the time it reaches degree level, 12,800 boys start studying engineering and only 400 girls do.
And this isn’t good; it isn’t good for anyone. It isn’t good for girls (STEM careers pay in the region of 30% more than other careers) but it isn’t good for anyone. Women make up slightly more than half of the population – and if they aren’t involved in the jobs that shape our lives as much as STEM jobs do, then there’s a vast girl shaped hole in the way we think, the way we invent and the way we build.
Before I started the job I do now, I completed a Masters in Electronics – and it’s been a long time since I tinkered with a circuit board – BUT another reason for wanting more girls, more people in fact, to continue studying science and engineering is that it teaches you a different way of thinking. It imparts problem solving, skills that are useful whatever career you end up following. Science touches us all and we need to understand it when it does.
How do we change this? How do we fix it? Perhaps a lot of it comes down to stories – making sure that we tell the stories of the thousands of women that somehow we overlooked who shaped the way the world is today. The women involved in the first computers, those at the forefront of medicine; who invented things and never got the credit; who studied for degrees in science and maths and engineering, in a time when they knew they would never be allowed to actually receive the degree.
But stories aren’t enough: people like me need to step up and make sure that companies like Accenture where I work get involved. That we recruit more women and find the best ways to keep those women – as their lives change, as the things they want to do change. And that we tell their stories too: the stories of the thousands of amazing women who work in technology firms like mine.
I have a daughter – I look at her, and I look at her friends, and I wonder just what we will miss if we don’t show them the possibilities in front of them and tell them the stories of the women who have blazed a trail. The girls I talk to at STEM events or Days of Code are too old now for Lottie dolls but the idea remains the same at its heart: stay obsessed with problems; stay tinkering with things; build robots and look at stars.