Wanted: Girls in STEM careers

Emma McGuigan, head of technology at Accenture. Picture: John Cassidy

Emma McGuigan, head of technology at Accenture. Picture: John Cassidy

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Being digitally savvy has become the new normal. Every aspect of our lives is code-driven. From downloading music and ordering the weekly shop or home delivery through to crime prevention and medical diagnosis.

The technological revolution is happening at such a pace that if we sit still and stagnate, we will undoubtedly get left behind.

So why then, are businesses across the country still struggling to recruit women into technology based roles?

According to research we’ve conducted at Accenture, there is a mind-set shift that needs to take place when girls are still at school.

Instead of perceiving STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) as boys’ subjects, which currently half of female pupils say they do, they need to be seen for what they are - subjects for everyone, and an area that offers fantastic career opportunities at the forefront of driving Scotland’s economy.

We need to educate them that STEM is not just about coding or working in a lab; it is also about problem solving and communication that requires creativity as well as logic. More so, we need to excite them that a career in STEM could allow them to make a significant contribution to many of the big challenges facing society today, reducing climate change; curing cancer or creating digital solutions to support the aging population.

Accenture’s first ‘Girls in Stem’ event last year was attended by 300 11-15-year-olds and the excitement in the room was palpable. Those who never thought themselves good at English began to believe that there was something else for them. Seeing new potential and thinking differently about themselves was what it was all about. We’re now bringing that event to Scotland at the end of January.

STEM subjects are about creating things, changing the way we live, changing the way we behave; and they offer up a breadth of opportunity and skills for both artist and scientist. Undoubtedly, some of the most valuable jobs now and in the future are those that require an understanding of digital.

Getting girls into STEM careers is not a new problem, but it is becoming critical.

According to Boston Consulting Group, the UK’s digital economy has grown by 50 per cent in five years and will contribute 12.4 per cent of GDP in 2016. It is now not only important to recognise the challenge but to embrace the initiatives that want to bring about change.

Businesses, schools, government and parents all need to spread the message that boys and girls are equally capable of excelling in everything from nuclear physics to ballet. And girls, continue to make sure that your brothers believe that it is an abomination that women cannot do the same as men!

Emma McGuigan is head of Technology for Accenture in the UK and Ireland.

Accenture is hosting Girls in Stem at the National Museum of Scotland on 28 January 2016

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