Reaching the Untapped Innovators


Last night I attended Racepoint Global – Reaching the Untapped Innovators discussion at the Rainmaking Loft in central London. I was there representing Imperial College and the WISE Young Women’s Board. Recapping Global are an “intelligence-driven marketing agency” …xxxx…various other words I don’t really understand. Ultimately what they do is assess issues a company may face and find economically sensible solutions. What have they seen? In the past 6-7 years there has been a huge change of pace in the ‘STEM’ world and are campaigning for practical skills. Racepoint work a lot with media and are aware with how confused the message has become- the apparent predicted skills shortage by government, but, at the same time, there have never been so many people going into Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine. They’re here to ask the fab panel (see below) and interesting audience what’s happening to these people? Where are people working ? Where are their opportunities? Where can we educate influencers and media?

Racepoint have worked with an awful lot of good (and bad!) groups and initiatives making waves in the science communication sphere, and got a great panel representing industry and educational institutions. Their message is: ultimately if STEM underpins our lives: pressing political and social issues (housing, population, ageing, healthcare: How can we hardness this? If STEM is that important, How do we make it relevant for all?! What about those that think it’s not for them?!?

First we heard from Cambridge University: Designing Our Tomorrow (D.O.T). Ian Hosking works at Adenbrooke’s teaching hospital and moonlights in science education ( D.O.T.’s

main aim is  “authenticity”. Not hearing about engineering that students ‘might do one day…’, with D.O.T they’re doing it today! D.O.T. are looking to fill the ‘hole in stem’- how do we connect our knowledge to societal problems? go for the girls… From an education point of view, we need to be careful of words like ‘STEM’. Whilst people are familiar with science and maths being the classical axis of the world they live in, engineering and technology are at the forefront of modern-day life. To quote Gordon Brown, ‘Engineering is at interface of science and society’.

D.O.T. take engineering into schools and have produced a set of resources Key Stage 3 Design and Technology classes. They’ve found that young girls are particularly good at inventing for ‘socially good’ issues. If you let young people explore problems, provide them with the tools to create their own ideas and evaluate how well these could hold their own in a corporate world you get some amazing results. D.O.T. challenge teachers to group together their year 9 to take on any design team in the world. We need to stop holding students hands and encourage them to do some proper professional quality conceptual thinking.

Next up we heard from Bright Little Labs, founded and run by Sophie Deen. Bright Little Labs are  a Children’s content company who are gender neutral and ethically good. Sophie’s had a pretty awesome life story to get to BLL- she’s been a lawyer and worked all over the world. This gives her great insight into what works and what doesn’t in different countries, and her experience is great! She’s visited 80 different countries with code club and in ten years has never read a kids book about a black-engineer-princess or any superhero who recycles. Sophie is appalled by how many kids in the UK don’t know milk comes from cows and the disconnect of our click-and-collect society.

Whilst 15 % of people in the world are white, 72 % of characters in the media are white, and that ain’t right! 

We need to use the seven-and-a-half hours a day kids are spending in front of screens. Sophie’s characters are great; there’s Detective Dot, a coding heroine with a family background more exciting than the imperial college festival, who can talk to the different components inside objects and track where they come from. The panel really loved Sophie’s idea and emphasised the need to stop spoon-feeding children what they want when they want it. The ‘google’ it generation forget that browsing the internet isn’t magic, and that once a human wrote the algorithm that coded their computer..

The panel discussion was chaired by IMG_3655Suw Charman-Anderson, the founder of Ada Lovelace Day 2015, a champion for women in tech. She realised in 2009 that technology conferences featured very few female speakers an
d set up ALD. This week there have been 140 independent events going on across the world and at least one on each continent. ALD are making a resource pack for schools (which sounds heaps like People Like Me!) that celebrates female achievement!

The panel:

  • Justin Dillon, Professor of Science & Environmental Education, Bristol University
  • Kayleigh Bateman, Head of Digital Content & Business Development, WeAreTheCity
  • Peter Finegold, Head of Education & Skills, The Institution of Mechanical Engineers
    •  IMechE has 112,000 members and 6 % of them are women.
  • Su White, Associate Professor of Web & Internet Research Group, University of Southampton
  • Katherine Crisp, Head of Strategy & Innovation, UNICEF UK
  • Phil Wolfenden, Vice President-Technical Services, Cisco

‘STEM’ is part of everyday life, and one that we don’t spend enough time thinking about: any marketing team needs to know how to use instagram, hospitals have twitter feeds and we can ‘rate our teachers’ after lessons. The majority of the public STILL think STEM isn’t relevant to them, so how do we make it appear relevant?

Is it a cultural problem? People who have studied STEM courses realise not discipline but rather a set of life skills, which provide you with logical approaches to problem solving. Somewhere along the way we’re losing the initial excitement and curiosity in education and career guidance.

The IMechE think it’s about narrative and dialogue between the STEM community and young people. With all best will in world, it is difficult for adults to connect with children or change gender. He highlighted the amazing project of the IMechE which personalises engineering education by assigning budding 11 – 19 year old engineers to five tribes. Each Tribe internally has shared values and beliefs, as well as similar attitudes to school, family and work.

  • Two of the Tribes, ‘STEM Devotees’ and ‘Social Artists’, are present in similar proportions across all ages. 
  • Social Artists’ are a large, female-dominated and creative section of the population who seemingly have relatively little affinity with STEM. Their rejection of STEM is mainly driven by absence of interest rather than lack of confidence. ‘Social Artists’ are the second largest and a potentially influential Tribe.

What they have found is that the STEM devotees make up 29% of population. They think (and I whole heartedly agree) that most outreach efforts are already preaching to this 29% . We’re not addressing 70% of population. We need to improve narrative, who are they? What are their beliefs? What is important to them in their lives?

Why is no one taking physics? What does work?

We need to encourage informal learning/ plethora of initiatives. We don’t need a one-stop-shop, we need to change culture (making issues like gender, science, class attitudes, tech less important abstract thinking). There should largely be interventions at school level, and changing of university ethos and curricular. IMechE want to stop the mandatory physics and maths A-Levels for all engineering students, saying they could pick it up in first year of degree.

How do we frame it? STEM = Problem solving, seeing problems in world around them. I’ve been speaking to my wisest friend Seb about this a lot- young thinkers don’t identify with old school disciplines like ‘maths, physics, chemistry and biology’. Science departments, Imperial and job markets are becoming increasingly inter-disciplinary, and it’s time we addressed that in education.

There’s the well known labelling difficulty- how can we make people self identify in real and fun way?

Kayleigh, a super impressive board member from WeAreTheCity, say whilst girls and boys do learn differently, neither want to be singled out. There is a clear difference in the way we play, but don’t attempt to define the differences- make options present for both sexes without singling either out.

There was a lot of chat that girls and women are more motivated to make a social difference. Schools, teachers and educators are missing a trick explaining how science explains everything. Technology underpins business, life saving, social interactions- all of society aspirations can be based around a tech story! How and why are we not explaining this to young people?

If we’re shaping technology we’re shaping society.

How can we get kids to think more creatively?  What’s coming out from education?

Even if students come to the lab with passion, they don’t hear anything about the wide-range of scientific careers they could get into. Students are convinced that studying science = you go into science you end up being a scientist and nothing more. Students think that science isn’t for them, and that they’re not good at it.

1. Careers advice needs to be earlier and more specific (from around 10)

Teachers need to be able to promote jobs within science and tech

Enthused, targeted, careers advice across curriculum- don’t leave to 15-16.

2. Science for social justice

We need to encourage the whole family to get excited by science. There’s heaps of evidence girls and ethnic minorities don’t go in to science with the support they need- unless they have family members in the science sector; there is still work to do. There needs to be some systemic change that involves families and schools working together.

Su White @ Southhampton says that more and more frequently women are making the decision later. Go to university, mature, understand who they are, look at world around them, then choose to move to science and tech. ‘The art of the possible’

We then need to make STEM more accessible: ‘We don’t mind if you don’t have X, we can give you X’

The good news is ‘we’re all against quotas’- whilst we’re in agreement that the framework needs to be there- some kind of organisational threat to the infrastructure to set goals with incentives. We need to work (like Imperial do!) to display the right behaviour through recruitment cycle and access a gender diverse talent pool.

What’s the problem with ‘STEM’

It’s been circulating the internet for around 15 years, but what does ‘STEM’ actually mean when translated to schools? In the UK we do a lot of S and M, a bit of E, and absolutely no T. ‘STEM’ has outlived its purpose and we need to address different issues.

Confidence in girls: Girls have lower self esteem even if more able AND teachers more likely to think boys naturally gifted even though girls have higher attainment. We need to educate all those working with younger people (teachers, ambassadors, mentors, parents) so that they too are aware of the gender bias in system.

When confidence gets low, people drop out and make the wrong choices. Can we delay when students have to choose A-levels or rule out triple science? Is it time to restructure secondary education and give people more time to make sophisticated choices?

Katherine Crispp, the UNICEF head of innovation, only just realised her great science knowledge is probably because she was educated in Scotland, who don’t let you drop science until you go to university!

What will be main driver for change: industry/ policy? How do we look at change in a macro level?

CISCO say organisation with the problems need to lead the solution, and the government need to enable the solution. Ultimately, they’re putting the onus on industry. Apparently EVERYONE wants female graduates- but the universities want them to stay for PhDs.

IMechE are worried about leaving it all to industry, because it all becomes about recruitment. Education is a nationalised industry, and industry and employers see education as a product along supply chain. The industries always have to be ‘seen’ to be doing the right things when shareholders are concerned, and chairmen/women often have daughters to protect. This results in lots of duplicating of activities where ultimately corporations ‘want logo on initiatives’. When there’s a shortage of engineers industry go for recruitment missions, when they fill quotas, initiatives diminish quickly. It can’t be industry alone but needs to be the collective: state education mainly (government to fund and support).

Jane Buggy @ ATOS ICT asked where are we at in learning from other countries?

Whilst the UK need a wider variety of accessible science / technology courses beyond 16, we shouldn’t make the mistake of comparing ourselves with countries that are nothing like us (Shanghai / Hong Kong).

What’s clear is we need to keep making and keep being able to play with spaces in 3D. There’s a very clever man at UCL who champions or need to keep being able to manipulate materials and could be losing the neurological capabilities to think outside our 2D screens.

The ‘STEM’ capital is huge- if we could train mothers and teachers in the powers of science and tech we’d be all sorted. IMechE estimated each teacher (with a 40 year teaching career) could generate £1 trillion for the UK economy.

Who will sponsor the Great British switch to STEM?

A play off between industry and government? If we HAVE to digitise everything we need talent to do it- ultimately we’ll need talent to drive in our own economy, cultures and cities, so we owe it to the next generation to make relevant to us. Without that talent, over time we’ll become less-and-less competitive as an economy. There will come a day where not doing something will cost us, and somehow we’ll create that budget.

We’ll have to be clever, and spread money further when it arrives. Instead of the one-time joys of engaging directly with young people, teachers deal with young people on a day-day basis. Embed careers within education and encourage each teachers to seek professional development training. It’s much more efficient to educate the educators on exposure to opportunities that challenge stereotypes and archetypes. The current levels of support and funding to push teachers into teaching are NOT what they should be- we need to do more to help teachers help young people see where STEM careers can lead.

(Feel for me, I forgot my notepad and pen and ended up having to take all those 2,000 words on my phone’s notes (!!)). 

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