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Transfer Over Boys… It’s The Ladies’ Flip Now to be Fairly Curious

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Move Over Boys… It’s The Girls’ Turn Now to be Pretty Curious

Engineering and technology. They’re for boys, right? Wrong! While they might have been in the past, there’s a growing movement to change this and encourage girls to study STEM subjects. And I heartily approve, although I hadn’t given much thought to my daughter’s career choices until R2D2 appeared on our doorstep. In this advertising post which explores EDF’s #prettycurious campaign, my daughter makes a droid and gets excited about STEM subjects while I realise I need to pay more attention to her options…

Dreaming of space at the National Space Centre, Leicester

Could my daughter be suited for a career in science or space technology? Ccould yours?

Girls breaking down barriers

The biggest barrier to girls doing engineering is boys. Or so I find out as I set my twelve year old daughter and her friend the challenge of building R2D2. Hannah’s brother keeps trying to take over. When he realizes there’s no way he’s going to get his hands on the electronics, he assumes control of the instructions app on the iPod and tries to direct. When the girls assemble the robot but the electronics fail to work first time he wants to take over. He needs managing. And it makes me wonder if women in engineering and science have the added task of managing the men in engineering and science.

The Little Bits droid was a gift for curious girls – when they ditched the annoying brother

Not wired differently, just conditioned

The girls chat happily as they work and are not phased by the challenge. They aren’t as confident as my boys would be; rather than problem solving when the droid fails to move, they initially sit there waiting for someone to help them out. When they are encouraged to explore the fault themselves they soon correct their mistake; an unsecured drive motor. They pull the robot apart, retrace several of the steps and within minutes the droid springs to life, bleeping its appreciation. They jump up and down with glee and give each other an “engineer high five!” I wonder out loud if I am partly responsible for their earlier reluctance to get stuck in, given my distaste of changing light bulbs and rewiring plugs.

“Actually we did some online tests at school about what careers we’d be most suited to. Mine was a light bulb engineer.” says Hannah’s friend, who then adds “What is a light bulb engineer?”

I start to tell her it’s perhaps a guy who designs lighting systems but then I check myself. Why do I always use the words ‘guy’ and engineer in the same sentence?

Lightpool installation in Blackpool, Brain Container by Jo Berry

Girls’ brains are as big and bright as boys’ brains

Careers for all

It’s careless language. But also a reflection of my own experiences. While Stuart was encouraged to study engineering at University I studied the arts. When he was attending career fairs in engineering my careers officer suggested the best thing for me was to take a gap year and go travelling. Although financial support for further study did come from my brother who guaranteed my loan for a postgraduate diploma. He didn’t balk because I was a girl and I will be eternally grateful for that.

Assembling the Star Wars Droid kit takes some concentration

Assembling the Star Wars Droid kit takes some concentration

The challenge is on

We never really went down the pink route with my daughter, but we also never bought her Meccano or the construction toys we bought the boys. I try to treat them all the same but don’t expect her to fix my computer when it has a meltdown whereas the boys are used to being on call. I find it sad to read that only one in four people working in core STEM roles in the UK are women. And unless we all do something about it, girls will get left behind in the future as jobs in science, research, engineering and technology are likely to rise at double the rate of other occupations between now and 2023 (according to EDF Energy and Social Media Foundation research.)

Human - light art at Lightpool in Blackpool

Do you send your girls and boys in different directions or treat them the same?

A company on a mission

EDF Energy has been trying to help. It has plans for 30% of its STEM graduate and apprenticeship intake to be women by 2018. The energy company exceeded this number in 2017, growing intake to 35% but feels there’s still more to do. Pretty Curious, now in its third year, is a mission to raise awareness of the under-representation of girls in STEM, and inspire girls to pursue STEM-based subjects at school and in their future careers. I ask Hannah what STEM means and both girls quickly answer –“Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.”

Reflections of Girl and South Tyrol Alpine Landscape

What future do you see for your daughter?

A STEM supportive school

We attend Hannah’s subject review at school. I am pleased to see female teachers in most of the science and technology roles and I find EDF are not alone in encouraging girls. The computing teacher says Hannah has a talent and showed this by coming tenth in her year in her tests. She promises Hannah lots of opportunities in her school career including an all female robot building team in year ten if she continues to show an interest. She asks Hannah to bring in R2D2 sometime and show the class. In Hannah’s Design and Technology feedback session the teacher is similarly encouraging, telling her to go away and design something in the holidays.

It was in bits but now it's whole

It was in bits but now it’s whole

Boy trouble

Back home, we find Hannah’s brother has put all the stickers on R2D2’s plastic shell and is sending him around the floor self navigating the carpet.

“I was just helping them out!” he cries.

Admittedly Hannah does have a bit of catching up to do in our family. Matthew, our eldest won an Arkwright Engineering scholarship last year that’s offering him lots of opportunities, including a potential trip to Yale and Harvard to look research studying engineering at an American University. He’s also chief programmer for his Vex robotics team and came first in a national Cipher Challenge. Both boys are gifted coders too. I ask Hannah what her school computer test suggested she should be.

“A dancer,” she groans.

It seems even computers can get it wrong. Hannah has never so much as put her foot into a ballet shoe – it’s her slightly older brother Cameron who has embarked on a career in dancing, hopefully proving we are not a sexist house. For a second opinion Hannah takes the EDF Future Me quiz to find out which STEM career might be best for her. It suggests an electronic engineer which is a bit more reassuring.

Little girl winching in the sails

From an early age Hannah rose to the same challenges as her brothers

Do you have a Pretty Curious daughter?

If your daughter may also be a budding engineer or mathematician, the EDF #PrettyCurious initiative is worth checking out. The company believes that seeing female role models in STEM careers motivates girls and the campaign gives girls a sense of what it might be like to work in science and technology. Hands on experiences and digital content include the #PrettyCurious website; which is an imaginative resource for daughters. And this year EDF is partnering with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, believing that exciting lead female characters such as Rey and Rose present a force to inspire more girls into STEM. I agree and we will be taking our girls to see it as a reward for completing their Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit. We might even take the droid but I won’t be paying for his seat.

Up close with the innards of a droid

Up close with the innards of a droid

360 degree choice

EDF Energy also sends us a Pretty Curious Google cardboard headset and we use it to watch the 360˚ virtual reality film that gives you a sense of the industries available with STEM. It’s an interesting watch, for parents as well as kids, as it portrays the roles of three intelligent, intrepid women including a structural engineer at the Shard. Mums and Dads can also take the Parents’ Quiz on the right career for your daughter so you can give her a steer. My quiz results suggested Hannah should become an architect, a thought I’ve had a few times myself. I didn’t tell Cameron about the quizzes or he’d have no doubt hopped on and done them for both of us.

Disclosure Note: “We are working with EDF Energy and BritMums to promote the #PrettyCurious programme. Visit the EDF Pretty Curious page for more information and advice.