A Q&A with Jenny Brown, Headteacher at St Albans High School for Girls

At St Albans High School for Girls what do you do to try and encourage more girls to take an interest in STEM and study STEM subjects?

Encouraging more girls to take an interest in STEM and study STEM subjects is absolutely part of what we are doing all the time.  Our pupils are enthused about STEM learning and endlessly curious, as they are about any learning. Students are inspired by the engagement of teaching staff – many of them female, aspirational and dynamic – acting as encouraging role models and positive reinforcement of STEM futures. A great part of the motivation for girls to study STEM subjects lies in the interest gained in the classroom – this primarily comes from excellent quality staff who engender interest through their own enthusiasm for science.

Through pupil-led initiatives we design exciting opportunities for pupil leadership in science. Pupils have the opportunity to take part in debates, mentor primary pupils, join STEM clubs and attend holiday courses on computing. The school alumni are also a vital force, connecting current pupils with university students and professionals in the STEM field.

It is also really important to break down subject silos through cross curricular scientific learning within school and beyond it. St Albans also works in the local community with maintained schools to share knowledge and break down barriers.

What advice do you have for other schools to help them encourage more girls into STEM?

It’s a bit like encouraging more girls into oxygen. A key point for schools to help encourage more girls into STEM is to acknowledge and celebrate its pervasiveness. Girls are into STEM every time they pick up a phone; instruct Alexa, or Facetime a friend. Finding the emotional hook for girls’ learning is key. To engage girls you often build a story beyond the appeal of logical problem solving and analysing data. So you might channel an adolescent girl’s appetite for communication in STEM – getting them interested in designing systems for younger pupils or students from other schools, and explaining or developing the technology behind what they would be doing or want to do anyway.

Every school has to be thoughtful in order to harness scientific potential in girls. In mixed schools, give girls the opportunity to lead. It’s crucial that female teachers are seen as role models by giving them explicit STEM leadership. There are also lots of projects and competitions for schools to enter: Salter’s festivals, RSC analyst, Olympiads, the Bebras Challenge etc. It’s important to make space for these types of opportunities beyond the curriculum. We have STEAM ambassadors pupils in year 8 who work on science projects with science ambassadors from companies over the course of a year. Co-curricular STEM is key: pupils become more adventurous in their relationship with science and it’s linked to play. It’s fun.

What are some of the roadblocks facing girls’ progression in STEM?

One of the main roadblocks facing girls’ progression in STEM is money. The government have to get on top of recruitment of STEM teachers. It’s important to sell the dream of STEM teaching to prevent possible teachers from entering the commercial sector. University students have a high level of subject expertise, so we need to take advantage of their potential.

Other roadblocks are the essentially 19th Century subject constructs in schools. Arbitrary subjects classified by Victorians remain the way in which we do most of our learning in schools. This needs to shift through creative, exciting and challenging cross-subject teaching, focusing instead on skills: problem-solving, data management; analytical experiment.

Confidence in a co-educational environment is also vital. To ensure girls progression in STEM teachers need to be clever in their manipulation of the learning environment to instil confidence in girls. Teachers often have to find a pull that is creative: this is why STEM should be STEAM. At St Albans project work allows multi-disciplinary investigation. So topics like: Water; Faces; or Spheres demand agile thinking around STEM learning. We make sure that questions breed openness and confidence too (How would you explain plastics to Henry VIII? How would you extract DNA here? Or The answer is 53, what is the question?) Students know that if they ask a question, they will not just get an answer – they are more likely to be given another question to help them elucidate their original answer.

At St Albans High School for Girls roughly 40% of girls go on to study a STEM degree.  Enthusiastic, innovative and inspirational teachers are the STEM leads in school. There’s government work to be done on the public exam process, which is unimaginative and can be a deterrent, but degree apprenticeships are also massively important as they are recognised by everyone. It is early days, but T levels also have the potential to enhance girls’ progression in STEM.

How are you educating and preparing pupils for the journey from school into a career?

In the 6th Form girls have leadership opportunities to prepare them for the journey from school into a career. We cannot underestimate the influence of confidence gained from student leadership – and the immense power of being able to perceive/view a future through connecting like minds together and inspirational modelling. The MedVet society at St Albans is one example but there are also 6th form lectures and lecture lunches to engage pupils. St Albans also offers lots of support to their pupils in higher education training so that they know what they are signing up for. Pupils have the opportunity to undertake work and lab placements in preparation for their career.

What are the opportunities of the digital world and how can this benefit girls and women’s progression in STEM?

Advances in technology and the digital world are game-changers in education. It means we can be more creative and adventurous in breaking down subject silos and age structures. St Albans use an AI platform called Bluetec for maths teaching; it is fully adaptive and recognises individuals and their learning needs. This specialised and highly individualised learning platform is exciting and may become common practice in schools.

In light of the digital world, every single girl needs to be a coder. At St Albans, girls are encouraged to attend a summer coder course and all code in school. Through this, pupils become part of the solution for the future impact of technology. We are fortunate to be educating during this digital educational revolution… Schools, universities, our entire society are redefining what we understand by science. How incredibly exciting that is.

Jenny Brown will be taking part in the Panel Discussion at the Women in STEM Conference 2019, to find out more and book on check out the website here: https://stemwomenconference.co.uk/

This Q&A summary was written by Tatiana de Berg


10 tips to help build diverse teams – If we’re all the same how can we think differently!

Written by Pip Jamieson, Founder & CEO of The Dots 

There is now endless research showing that diversity is good for business, good for innovation and good for creativity. A Harvard Business School study found that teams with colleagues from different backgrounds and experiences come up with more creative ideas and methods of solving problems. Another study by the London Business School found that more gender-balanced teams better promote an environment where innovation can flourish. And the list goes on! In the end, if we’re all the same, how can we think differently?

In an environment where competition for talent is fierce, diversity can also be a secret weapon for building and retaining world-class teams. For example, research by Creative Equals found that teams that are diverse are 45% happier and 48% more likely to stay at a company.

Diversity is not just about gender. It’s about building teams that reflect society as a whole incorporating different ethnicities, cultures, neurodiversity (dyslexia, ADHD, autism etc.), sexuality, disability, socioeconomic backgrounds and more. Why? Because we all have biases – it’s human nature.

Here are a couple of examples of when unconscious bias gets us into trouble;

  • When seat belts were first invented by a primarily male team, they only tested these belts on male crash test dummies. The result, while women are less likely to be in accidents, they were 47% more likely to die from these accidents.
  • Take the act of searching websites as another example. On average, men prefer to search a site using free text search, whilst women are more likely to prefer some form of signposting (like a drop-down search menu). The challenge comes when a tech product is built by a primarily male team, they unconsciously build products for themselves, not for everyone.

Building teams that are reflective of society as a whole will also become increasingly important as we enter an age of automation – if the people teaching the machines to think are homogeneous, we’re going to start amplifying bias at mass scale.

For me, LinkedIn always felt like it encouraged homogeneity, but being a dyslexic sole female tech founder, I never felt I fit the mould. What I’ve come to realise is it’s our differences that make us brilliant. So, in 2014 sunk everything I earned into starting The Dots from my houseboat Horace.

Fast forward four years and The Dots has grown into a viable LinkedIn competitor with over 10,000 brands now using us to hire full-time and freelance talent. At the heart of what we do is helping businesses build diverse teams. Our amazing community is currently 68% female, 31% BAME, 16% LGBT+ and we also do a lot of work to support disabled, neurodiverse, socioeconomic movements and disadvantaged talent. We also adjusted our algorithm so a more diverse selection of talent appears at the top of searches.

Over the years I’ve collaborated with hundreds of incredible diversity organisations who play a critical role in training, mentoring and remove the barriers faced by diverse talent. Here are some top tips I’ve learnt along the way.


Ten tips to help you implement diversity in your own teams

  1. Start from the top

Incorporate diversity into the company’s DNA. The most forward thinking businesses I know have second interview diversity quotas. Sourcing a big enough funnel of talent might take a little longer upfront, but it pays off massively in the long run.

  1. Lead by example

You get the best out of people if they can bring their whole selves to work. For example, my email signature reads ‘delightfully dyslexic, excuse typos!’. My dyslexia comes with some challenges (like I’m terrible at spelling), but it’s also my superpower in that dyslexics have high levels of perseverance, intuition, creativity and empathy, meaning we thrive as leaders, creatives and entrepreneurs. The more leaders are open about their specific superpowers/challenges like neurodiversities, the more mid-levels and juniors coming through can also feel empowered.

  1. Think carefully about job descriptions

You might be putting off a whole raft of people that might otherwise apply for your position simply by using the wrong language or overloading the job description with too many required skills and experience. For example, men and women do not perceive job descriptions the same way – on average a man will be more likely to apply for any job they’re interested in, while women tend to apply if they feel they have all the qualifications needed. I recommend stripping out everything that isn’t essential, as many things can be taught in-house. This will result in a more diverse selection of applicants.

  1. Hire for value fit not culture fit

So often I hear people saying ‘we’ve got to hire for culture fit’. I become worried about that, as hiring for culture fit tends to mean hiring someone you think you’ll get on with – someone you would potentially go to the pub with. This attitude tends to lead to very non-diverse teams because you’re hiring people like you and if we’re all the same how can we think differently? What’s more important is hiring talented people who share your company’s values.

  1. Remove bias from your recruitment process

Interviewing by committee (c.3 people) is a great way for removing bias from the interview process. Blind recruitment is also great, and is a practice that has become increasingly common amongst recruiters in recent years. At its core, blind recruitment is a way to remove personally identifiable data such as name, photo, gender and age from incoming CVs. This results in companies considering applications solely based on talent and skill, thereby removing immediate bias at the first stage of the hiring process. This has lead us to develop a bias-free browsing mode when companies search The Dots to hire talent.

  1. Pay your interns

Paying interns anything less than national living wage will bias junior hires, as those whose parents cannot afford to support them while they’re interning won’t apply.

  1. Train from grass roots

At The Dots a while back, I found I was struggling to find female developers to hire, so I instead hired female junior mathematicians –who were incredible in their own right – and placed them underneath senior engineers who mentored and trained them up. This way they learned organically and the seniors loved training them as much as they loved being trained.

  1. Have a diversity advocate

Within a company, placing someone who stands as the ‘diversity advocate’ can be beneficial. This way for example, anyone who is LGBT+ but has not yet come out to the office, or anyone who is neurodiverse, or anyone who simply doesn’t want to speak out, can go to the advocate who will inform the office for them.

  1. Focus on team happiness

There is no point onboarding diverse talent into your business if you haven’t built an environment where they can flourish. Tokenism doesn’t work. Having just one diverse person on the teamcan actually lead to a negative effect of making individuals less able to express their identity in the workplace. Most businesses find this out too late, when talent chruns. A trick I’ve found to working out if you’ve built an inclusive working environment is to focus on teams happiness. I monitor this each quarter via an anonymous survey to my team asking how happy they are working at The Dots (1-10), what they love about working at The Dots, how I can improve the office to make them happier, how can I improve the product to make them happier and what would they do if they were CEO. The survey is a bit like an exit interview, in the end, if someone is struggling in silence because they find, for example, their open plan office distracting because their autism, they’re not going to be happy or productive.

  1. Use The Dots bias free browsing mode

This is a completely shameless plug, but if you want to hire incredible diverse talent then you should start using The Dots bias free browsing mode that remove personal data such as name, photo, educational and other information that could bias their hiring decisions, meaning candidates are considered solely based on talent – yay!

In Conversation with Dr Katie Perry: A Q&A with the CEO of The Daphne Jackson Trust

What are you currently working on at the Daphne Jackson Trust? Are there any projects for 2019 that you can share with us?

2019 is a conference year for the Daphne Jackson Trust, the conference takes place every two years and is on the 16-17th October in London and is free to attend. The conference represents an opportunity to bring together all the current Daphne Jackson Fellows as well as many former Fellows. Taking place over two days, it includes training for Fellows on the first day and for the first time a conference dinner for all delegates. Last time 70 fellows attended the conference. It’s at events like these that you really understand the reality of the great work of the Trust.

There are also lots of other projects coming up, including the post-fellowship survey for next year. Last year the trust launched its new website, this included a new video which truly encapsulates what the trust does.

What tips do you have for women that want to return to STEM research careers?

Never give up on your dreams and what you want to do. The Daphne Jackson Trust works with many women who have experienced a prolonged break from research. The Trust gives them the opportunity to return. If you are motivated, then there is nothing stopping you. The key is to do lots of research on what you want to do and then use an organisation, such as The Daphne Jackson Trust, to help and support you. The Daphne Jackson Trust offers lots of types of support for women who want to return to research, not only whilst doing the Fellowship but also during the application process, this includes help with confidence and mentoring.

Another tip for women that want to return to STEM research careers is to be practical. Question yourself, are you really ready? Is this the right time? Are you ready to return full time or part time? It is really important to plan and be practical about what you can expect from yourself.

What are the major challenges facing women in STEM and how can we help tackle them?

For schools and education there is a need for more inspirational role models and to take an individualised approach. Real role models, women, who are closer in age to those that they are trying to inspire, so that young women can really relate to them. Truly inspiring role models are so important.

In a work environment being a woman shouldn’t be a barrier. Equality of opportunity in the workplace is a major challenge. Determination is key, be single minded and do what you want to do. Never be afraid to report malpractice, point it out and ensure you have the same opportunities as others in the workplace. Communicate and share good practice, if something is going well then shout about it.

Companies and employers should use all the examples of best practice out there to encourage diversity and equality. It is important to bust urban myths and not perpetuate the problem. Employers can encourage their employees to become mentors. Men or women, who have been successful, should know that they can make an impact through becoming a mentor. It’s important to find people to champion each little bit of good work.

Can you tell us a bit about your inspiring fellows, what they do and how they are making a difference for women in STEM?

I absolutely love my job. All our Fellows and fellowship advisers are amazing. The Fellows cover every area of STEM research, including maths, physics, medical research and environmental research. It is a delight to work with the Fellows, they are inspiring in what they’re doing. All of them are returners who have experienced a career break, on average, of 5-8 years. They come back to research and are still juggling lots in their lives, either as carers, parents or their own health issues. It’s important for them to have the right work life balance. The Fellows also support one another, they meet at training courses and have formed geographic networks for peer to peer support. To find out more about the Fellows and their research you can see case studies on the Daphne Jackson Trust website.

Dr Katie Perry will be chairing the Women in STEM Conference 2019, to find out more and book on check out the website here: https://stemwomenconference.co.uk/

This Q&A summary was written by Tatiana de Berg