'STEM role models key to changing landscape'
The next generation must see more role models similar to themselves in the STEM industry if the ‘diversity gap’ is to close, according to two female tech figures from minority backgrounds.
The latest research from the International Journal of STEM Education reports that white men are most likely to report a sense of belonging whereas women of colour were the least likely to report the same.
The pair were interviewed as part of a special meeting of diversity champions organised by BusinessCloud.
Patrice John-Baptiste, head of brand and marketing at Yindi Curls, an e-learning platform giving black and mixed-raced children the practical tools to nurture their natural hair, said her appearances in schools to speak about STEM highlighted the issue.
“The children were absolutely fascinated because they didn’t know tech like this existed,” she said.
“They are being taught a lot more about tech, but I had a lot of black girls gravitate towards me asking intricate questions. They need to be able to see themselves in the sector.”
John-Baptiste said that conversations about diversity need to continue, with more champions from minority backgrounds visible in the sector.
You can watch a video interview with John-Baptiste above. BusinessCloud will be running a series of interviews with diversity champions throughout this week and next
“When you’re in the minority you take on the weight of everyone who's like you and end up becoming representative of your race in a business,” she said.
“That's a lot of pressure to put on someone.”
The ex-video games graphic designer urged businesses to notice when they become reliant on the same hiring patterns to avoid a lack of diversity.
“Bring in people from the outside who know about diversity and get some feedback,” she advised. “See it as a process. There's an idea that it’s some political correctness thing you have to do – actually it does build revenue.”
Pae Natwilai agrees. The CEO and founder of Trik saw the UK’s social attitudes to STEM subjects from outside, having grown up in Thailand.
Trik, which currently employs eight, uses drones to scan that can then automatically create a 3D model of the building. The company recently closed a funding round led by Zoopla founder Alex Chesterman.
Natwilai has recruited staff with a range of nationalities to the growing business, but admits she struggled to find women for her UK company.
You can watch a video interview with Natwilai above. BusinessCloud will be running a series of interviews with diversity champions throughout this week and next.
“I wish my workforce could be more diverse,” she said. “The majority of tech people are still guys but I want to hire a more diverse group – we have people from different nations but I want to see more women and give them more opportunities.”
The difficulty, she says, comes from the UK’s attitude to STEM subjects, which is unlike those of her native Thailand.
“In Thailand we don’t have that many women in engineering, especially robotics, but it was never weird that I was a woman in tech,” she said.
“When I came here it was strange because it seems like a lot of women are too afraid to get into the field so I think it's about society. I personally feel very comfortable and just say ‘yeah, so what?’”
Natwilai believes that the key to success is that everyone should simply study more STEM, regardless of who they are.
“It makes people feel like it's very normal for women to do those things. It was UK Construction Week recently, and all the posters showed men,” she said.
“In Thailand all the job ads show pictures of both men and women wearing engineering suits with a hard hat.”
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