Girls, STEM, and a bright future
For International Women’s day, I would like to reflect a little on women, girls, and the tech world. Frankly, in my role inside the corporate “bubble”, I could for a second make the mistake of thinking that the gender balance is quite equal. But all it takes is to step into the campus canteen here in Espoo, Finland, to notice the overwhelming male-dominance.
And it is not just in Nokia. According to a UIS study, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. The UNESCO data on the other hand shows that in the years from 2014 to 2016, only around 30% of all female students selected STEM-related fields in higher education. The EU data indicates that only 17% of ICT students are women, while 16% of those working as ICT specialists are women.
There is no denying that the tech field has a striking imbalance in gender. It is important to think for a moment,
…why does this matter?
…After all, isn’t it everyone’s free choice to pick the study and career path they prefer?
Calling out for positive role models
But the fact is that our choices are not made in a vacuum, but the society around us has a huge influence on the choices we make. If a girl is given the impression throughout her childhood that science is something hard, boring or only for guys, no wonder girls don’t feel a draw to STEM* subjects. If there were no positive role models, how would it cross a girl’s mind to dream of becoming a Nobel physicist?
I believe the problem is that society, for a long time, has not been supporting girls and women in choosing such a career. Luckily this is now changing, as today there are so many initiatives around the world that aim to break the myth that STEM is only meant for men. So, the why is clear – because it is simply not right that outdated stereotypes are affecting the choices made by girls and women today.
Nokia shows girls the fun in STEM
To show girls that the STEM field is a real option, it is important to start at an early age. It is exciting to see how Nokia is engaging in many activities through our Corporate Community Investment programs, that show girls the fun in STEM through practical learning experiences. What especially stands out is our long-term collaboration with an international NGO greenlight for girls (g4g). In 2019, Nokia had five own g4g-events in Antwerp, Bangalore, Cairo, Nanjing and Ottawa, and took part in two joint events in Brussels and Krakow. In total, we were able to reach 1290 girls and show them the fun in STEM.
In addition, there are many employee-led projects ongoing around the world within our Helping hands program. For example, in Finland we are working with the Children and Youth Foundation in organizing Dreams workshops, where students are engaged in real-life tech challenges and guided by tech role models as coaches. In Morocco, Nokia volunteers work together with ATPH association in creating a club that offers girls a creative space to learn about robotics, electronics, and coding. In Chengdu, China, a Technology Innovation Relay was held to raise students’ awareness of technology and innovation and challenge them to find innovative tech solutions to real problems in society.
And the results speak for themselves. As demonstrated with all g4g events, 94% of the girls state that they wish to pursue their STEM studies after attending an event, particularly when it involves getting to know role-model engineers, such as the Nokia volunteers. With such promising results, here we have the possibility to make a real impact.
How tech got a hold of me
It would be fair to say that prior to joining Nokia, I hardly had any special interest in tech. But now after sticking around for 9 months and learning about what Nokia’s technologies can do from connecting the unconnected in rural areas to helping improve the safety of cities, I have had a change of heart.
For me, the exciting factor is the massive scale in which tech can be used to change the world for the better. So much so that I am now writing my master’s thesis on human rights’ in relation to artificial intelligence – a topic that wouldn’t have even come to my mind before – so maybe that is what working in a tech company does to you!
Don’t tell girls what to do - show them.
I do really believe there can be a change, and with all the positive buzz today, it is hard to imagine otherwise. But it does require a lot of effort, and calls for collaboration between schools and companies, not to forget the important work all the women in STEM -initiatives are doing. Let’s make girls and women feel like they are wanted, and needed, in the tech world.
And importantly, girls do not like to be told what to do – we have enough of that already. But setting a positive example, being careful not to reaffirm stereotypes, and being supportive can go a long way.
Happy International Women’s day to all the amazing, intelligent and open-minded girls and women!
Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokia using #IWD2020, #WomenInTech, #WomenInSTEM, #GenerationEquality #GenderDiversity.
* STEM = science, technology, engineering and mathematics