By Dr Ellie Cosgrave, engineer and ScienceGrrl  director.
Ellie is a Research Associate at UCL's department for Science Technology Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP). Her work, part of the Liveable Cities research programme, focuses on how information technology is changing cities across the world. Ellie is passionate about broadening access to engineering and believes that diversity in engineering is the cornerstone to solving some of the world’s greatest and most complex challenges.
This blog post was written as part of the series of posts on the latest Public Attitudes to Science  survey conducted by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and Ipsos MORI.
When my maths teacher held me back after class to tell me she thought I would enjoy engineering and that the school could pay for me to go to an engineering summer school, I was over the moon. Here was my opportunity to understand what engineering was really about; I would be able to explore some of the problems engineers solve and the differences they make to people’s lives. The summer school would prove to give me confidence in applying to university with the firmly held belief that I was good enough and that I deserved to be there.
However, the messages I received from others around me were less supportive. I was made to feel, perhaps subconsciously, that I was strange for wanting to study engineering and that there were surely more suitable careers for “someone like me”. I was asked; “Why engineering? I thought you were creative!” and told countless times that engineering was “an interesting choice – for a girl”.
I am pleased then, that the Public Attitudes to Science  survey appears to show the beginnings of a shift in this attitude, with many people perceiving scientists and engineers to be ‘creative, interesting and open minded’. Breaking open stereotypes about STEM fields is fundamental in making it more inclusive and engaging for all members of society.
As the survey reports, 76% of people think that science is important to our economy and 91% agree that young people’s interest in science is essential for our future prosperity. It is worrying then that we appear to be excluding whole sections of society when it comes to science engagement. The report concludes that “women are less likely than men to feel informed about science and often feel less confident engaging with it.” Similarly, “those who are less affluent tend to feel less well informed about science and are less likely to feel they know what scientists do.”
This is not only limiting for the career and earning potential of these groups, but it also means they are being left out of the wider public discourse on science. Who is left representing their needs and interests in these conversations? Fundamentally this is a matter of social engagement; it’s about democratic participation in society – and it’s about genuine equality. At ScienceGrrl we are getting impatient and we believe that it’s time to make some changes.
On the 31st of March, ScienceGrrl  will release a report ‘Through Both Eyes’ where we present the statistics on gender inequality and ask why nothing has changed. We point to a pervasive culture of gender stereotyping as well as a stark omission of gender awareness in teaching and learning across the curriculum, enrichment, careers guidance and work experience. We make practical recommendations for change and call for a shared vision and a common understanding of the needs of our young women who are battling in an unequal environment.
It is my personal aspiration, and what I hope our report will catalyse, that every young person sitting in a maths or physics class will feel that science and engineering could be for “someone like me”. I hope that they are supported in achieving their true potential regardless of gender, race or upbringing.