By Orna Herr, Communications Officer (Education) at the British Science Association


It’s finally happened, the stars have aligned - the first day of British Science Week has fallen on International Women’s Day

This happy coincidence presents a wonderful opportunity to explore how our British Science Week resources, the Smashing Stereotypes classroom resource in particular, can be used to discuss STEM* with young women.

Closing the confidence gap

Classroom discussions about how girls are just as capable as boys at STEM subjects, and how girls can aspire to career in areas of the STEM workforces which are typically male-dominated, are still, sadly, sorely needed.

In February, education charity Teach First released the findings of a survey they had commissioned on the confidence levels of both boys and girls in STEM. They found that a significant gap. The survey found that 43% of girls are not confident learning science, while for boys this number sits a lot lower at 26%.

This is despite the fact that girls outperform boys in STEM subject exams at both GCSE and A Level – the lack of confidence isn’t about a lack of ability, there are a myriad of social factors that contribute to this issue.

Sylvia Jolly, a Teach First-trained science teacher said:

Empowering more girls to take up STEM and shine in the field will significantly benefit all STEM scientists. It will ensure that the workforce is empowered to work together.   

Empowering girls in STEM is one of the goals of our Smashing Stereotypes campaign.

A new resource promoting classroom discussion

Each year, as part of our British Science Week celebrations, we share written profiles and videos about a collection of people working in STEM-related jobs who are challenging stereotypes, breaking down barriers – in some way going against the grain. This includes women working in STEM spaces dominated by men, or using STEM skills in usual ways.

For the first time for British Science Week 2024, we have also published a Smashing Stereotypes classroom resource.

This is a deck of slides on each of the people profiled, giving more information on their work and background, and asking questions designed to prompt classroom discussion.

Smashing Stereotypes

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’ve gathered the women from this year’s campaign to shine a light on them as role models who can be held up in classrooms to show girls that they can do it – STEM is for them.

Hawa Mansaray

Hawa Mansaray is the founder of R.E.N (Rent Equipment Now) and a Product Manager at Save My Exams. Hawa studied psychology at university, and didn’t always see herself in STEM. 

She began a career in management consulting after university, but was soon hungry for a new challenge. When Hawa noticed that her friends were struggling to afford technological equipment to pursue their creative hobbies, she was inspired to set up R.E.N – an affordable rental company for such equipment.

She told us:

Going back to my younger teenage self, I would have told her: there’s a place in STEM for everybody. Don’t deselect yourself from things before you’ve gone and tried it.

Inspired by Hawa, students could think about a business they could start to solve a problem in a STEM industry.

Read more about Hawa here.

Tumi Siwoku

Tumi Siwoku excelled in STEM at school; she earned A Levels in chemistry, biology and geography. She had lots of options for courses to study at university with these A Levels, but none felt right until she came across a cosmetic science course at the London College of Fashion.

Moving through different jobs, Tumi found that she enjoyed roles that allowed her to work with a wide variety of hygiene and beauty products, as that gave her the chance to grow as a chemist.

She told us:

Back in 2008 when I started my career, manufacturing was a White middle-class male-dominated field. I was the first Black woman in manufacturing at a leading high street make up brand and I had no help or mentors who looked like me. Now, others have someone they can finally relate to.

Inspired by Tumi, students could think about the science behind the scenes of the products they use every day.

Read more about Tumi here.

Dr Jess Wade

Dr Jess Wade is a Lecturer in Materials Science and Royal Society University Research Fellow at Imperial College London. Jess is passionate about science communication and initiatives to support underrepresented groups’ access to science.

Jess studied physics at university, doing lab work and research placements. She has since become a lecturer and dedicated her career to training and supporting others.

She told us:

School, university, and your career are all spaces to learn and develop your confidence, find your passion and make the world a better place for other people. Science and engineering will provide the solutions that help us protect the planet and people we love. We need you to join us!

Inspired by Jess, students could think about careers in STEM academia.

Read more about Jess here.

Shakila Bik

Shakila Bik is the Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Director at L’Oréal UK & Ireland. Shakila had a passion for STEM from a young age and had a positive role model in her dad, who was a civil engineer.

Shakila is one of many women scientists who work for L’Oréal; 69% of the scientists there are women. This is unusual; women are underrepresented in the STEM workforce as a whole, and Shakila is passionate about tackling this issue. L’Oréal run the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science programme, which supports and empowers women in STEM.

Shakila said:

Every single person I work with on a day-to-day basis has all contributed to my career and development, though they may not even realise it. I truly believe you can’t achieve anything alone, and by having the right people around you can achieve anything.

Inspired by Shakila, students could think the intersection of science and cosmetics.

Read more about Shakila here.

Showing girls relatable, diverse STEM role models who are women can make a huge difference to how they perceive themselves in relation to higher education and careers in STEM. It’s hard to aspire to something you can’t see, so shining a light on examples like these is crucial for creating a more gender-balanced future STEM workforce, which will benefit us all.

More blogs you might be interested in:

Tackling the STEM gender gap

Building girls’ confidence in STEM with CREST Awards

Why we need more girls to study computing

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*STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and maths