Why are there not so many women working in the technology sector and how to achieve gender parity in IT, mechanical engineering, and the energy industry? For a year and a half, the educational project STEM is FEM has been dealing with these issues. Its initiator, investor and IT businessman Sergey Tokarev, shares the history of the project and explains why it is important to let girls know better STEM professions while still studying at school.
Gender imbalance in STEM is a global problem. According to statistics, the number of women in tech fields around the world is barely 30%. In Ukraine, depending on the specialties, the number is about 15-35%. There are various reasons for this imbalance and they are often based on gender biases and stereotyped thinking of employers. However, there is also another side of the issue: there is simply a lack of female specialists on the market.
‘I faced this problem in my own IT projects. The gender balance in a company always has a positive effect on business, it allows you to look at projects from different points of view and find more unique solutions. But it is difficult to achieve parity in IT, even when the company is doing everything possible for this,’ says Sergey Tokarev. ‘The situation on the market is closely related to the situation in education. When entering universities, girls tend to avoid choosing IT and other tech specialties. Trying to figure out the causes, we came across two key factors: stereotypes and fear.’
According to the initiator of STEM is FEM, an outdated and false stereotype about “male” and “female” professions is still strong in society. This stereotype puts pressure on children in the family, environment, and at school. As a result, girls develop a fear of choosing a “non-female” profession in which they will not be able to build a career.
‘At STEM is FEM, we mainly focus on combating this fear and similar stereotyped thinking. We show the project participants that they can become successful and build a career in any profession. The key point is their desire to grow professionally and work to achieve their goal,’ says Sergey Tokarev.
To solve this problem, the project has developed a system of educational modules for high school girls. Every two months, as part of STEM is FEM project, there is a two-day event dedicated to a certain industry. Every Ukrainian schoolgirl has an opportunity to take part in the module. To do this, they need to take part in the competition task on the project’s website.
The module consists of several parts:
– Motivational lectures. There are meetings with successful women from various fields. The STEM is FEM modules have been attended by the ambassadors of Germany, Finland, representatives of the American embassy in Ukraine, heads and employees of the UN, UNICEF in Ukraine, women ministers, and businesswomen.
– Industry-related lectures. There are meetings with women who have built a career in the field that is chosen as a module’s topic. The modules have been attended by employees of Google, Global Logic, representatives of startups related to the energy industry, mechanical engineering, robotization, agriculture, and representatives of scientific institutions.
– Excursion to industry-related enterprises (temporarily not conducted due to the COVID-19 pandemic). The participants have visited Global Logic, the Central Dispatch Service of Kyiv Electric Grids, a BMW Auto Showroom, and the Aviation Museum.
– Workshop. The girls have worked with a welding machine simulator, studied 3D modeling, and designed buildings.
– Creative competition. As part of the modules, the girls have created concepts for robots, designed and 3D printed benches to maintain social distancing, and created projects for bicycle stations with additional functions.
– Awarding of the winners. The girls who do the best in the creative competition get industry-related courses as a gift, an opportunity to take part in a major industry event of the international level (suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic), and other prizes that can help the winners succeed in their chosen career.
Sergey Tokarev says that, in addition to the educational modules, STEM is FEM also conducts a number of educational and awareness-raising events with partners.
‘Together with the Goethe Institute in Ukraine, we have launched an on-going reading club that allows its members to discuss novels from a scientific perspective. Each meeting is co-hosted by a specialist of the chosen topic,’ tells the initiator of the project. ‘Apart from that, we regularly provide all kinds of training and workshops that broaden the horizons of the participants and allow them to use their time and knowledge as productively as possible. Whether it’s a sketching or essay writing workshop or a meeting that reveals the aspects of volunteering.’
Sergey Tokarev says that altogether these events demonstrate endless opportunities for girls to grow professionally, let them meet women who managed to discard stereotypes and achieve success in an area they find the most attractive. And once they get into a community of successful women who are so enthusiastic to achieve their goals, STEM is FEM participants can get rid of their fears and become women in STEM.