imageWe are the City are a hub for professional women who want to make their voices heard. They work with big corporate names like pwc, Amazon and Reuters to empower and enable women into boardrooms, via training, networks and recruitment events. They’ve teamed up with big name bankers Morgan Stanley, who have been on a girl power mission for a few years, to arrange “We are Tech Role Models 6.0”- an “innovative event to show 150 women how to become one”. There’s never been a female CEO of a US bank, and the executive committees only comprise about 20 % women.

I’m here for two things: the STEMettes and Maggie Philbin. Maggie Philbin is an English and Drama grad from Manchester who stared on the BBC’s first science & tech programme, Tomorrow’s World in 1983. She’s won more awards than my lab partner Seb and gave the world barcode readers and digital cameras. Not happy with the glass ceiling, Maggie’s also been a sensational woman for other young people in tech, founding the now famous Teen Tech awards in 2008. She wishes her chemistry and physics teachers were still alive to see what she’s doing now. Frustrated by her non-numerate A-Levels, Philbin is finally understanding how much you can do with maths. When Philbin started presenting Tomorrow’s World her fans were impressed, “you talked about technology, you were clearly enjoying it..and you looked normal!”.

Philbin has spoken to a lot of schools and a lot of teachers. She’s seen first hand the enthusiasm for ‘STEM’ drop-off between primary and secondary school (and she’s got data). She’s also found out the majority of students have never been in a STEM workplace. Maggie asked students what they think of STEM ambassador visits and one-off #SciComm bonanzas:

  • “They talk about themselves without advising or helping me”
  • “They give the same advice to everyone when we are all different in our ways”
  • “They don’t have attractive posters”
  • “We need to know which GCSEs to choose for which jobs”
  • “They try and role model you into themselves”
  • “Assuming because I’m academic I’m going to go to university”
  • “They tell us what the job involves but not how to get to the job”

It’s not all gloom though- she’s sure you can make a difference. What does Philbin think works? It’s largely the same as the Main message (IOP Legend Peter Main’s preaching on education):

  • Become a school governor
  • Sponsor and mentor
  • Volunteer
  • Prepare for school visits- and make them on-going, not just one off
    • How can you make your career come to life?
    • What does solving/ coding/ creating feel like?

The problem that Philbin  identified is that the majority of jobs in tech are invisible, and it needs bold leaders to make their jobs clear to young people.

Philbin’s baby ‘Teen Tech’ is a one-day event that’s part of a year-long scheme, targeted at areas with global social need. They come together once a year to present their ideas to the HRH Duke of York at Buckingham Palace, battling for a prestigious £1,000 prize. Before taking part in a Teen Tech event, Philbin says girls have a 28 % interest in STEM subjects. Afterwards they’re hitting 80 %. What she’s most impressed by is how surprised the judges are with the students solutions. Students from Newbury designed an E-Water tap that’s now being used across Africa and a STI detecting colour changing condom that went ‘viral’. The success of school teams spreads way out of the science lab, impacting the whole school attitude toward STEM. A team that Philbin mentored in Wales (at Ysgol Glan Y Mor) didn’t have much confidence when they applied- and neither did their teacher. On their first trip out of Wales, the group won their regional final, the grand final and the big bang final- and are now going to America this summer to present their projects. The Welsh Government were so impressed they’re championing the school as a true example of innovation- and it’s all because of some teenage students.

We are the City also invited 3 women in tech to talk about how they need mentors. Ella Rose was adorable. She’s in her uniform on a school night at the UK HQ of a corporate investment bank. She became obsessed with tech when she started taking apart her mum’s laptop aged six, and was so excited to start secondary school earlier this year where Computer Science would be on the curriculum. She was not impressed. Instead Ella was taught more PowerPoint, Excel and Paint. She only learnt IT 1 of 3 terms, then had Art the other two. Ella wants the audience of #WomenInTech to take her under their wings- to mentor her, to train her and to hire her. Mohima Ahmed is in her third year at Imperial imagestudying BioEngineering. She’s part of Apps 4 Good and she’s a pioneer for social change through technology. She speaks so well I wanted to give her a prize. Mohima finally felt at home in tech when she heard from a successful Indian business woman with whom she shared a favourite dessert. She wants young girls to realise it’s okay to make mistakes- and you can keep making mistakes- and you can keep being brilliant. Finally, we hear from a Cambridge Computer Science who is one of Morgan Stanley’s new recruit, technical associate, Mona Niknaf.

Cut to mini canapés (burgers and chips!) and speed networking of 10 not-for-profits:

It was such a buzzy and enthusiastic room it was impossible not to feel inspired- I’d probably have signed a contract with any one of these business bigwigs.

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