Time to address the ‘women in STEM’ shortage says leading local businesswoman

Elaine Bruce is the Finance Manager of H&R ChemPharm (UK) Ltd – one of the UK’s leading suppliers of speciality oil and wax products, working in a variety of sectors such as energy, telecommunication, construction and pharmaceutical.


Working within the manufacturing sector Elaine works alongside colleagues from various STEM disciplines.

It’s a momentous year, with 2018 marking 100 years since some women in Britain were first given the vote. So, it’s not surprising that it has been dubbed the ‘Year of the Woman.’

Women and the STEM disciplines is a big concern at the moment, with the Times Higher Education (THE) recently reporting that 30 years on from the launch of the Women into Science and Engineering (Wise) campaign, the sense of urgency and commitment is waning and statistics are either remaining stagnant or dropping[1].

“These recent statistics are concerning and we need to address the situation,” says Elaine, who has a rich STEM background, having previously worked as a management accountant in the automotive sector and more recently taking on the role of Finance Manager at H&R ChemPharm (UK) Ltd.

She has also recently become a member of the Sandwell Business Ambassadors – a collective of business people who aim to support the Sandwell business community and address the skills gap between school leavers and employers in the area.

“There is a misconception about the STEM subjects being for those of super human intelligence, making them inaccessible to the masses. More worryingly, there is also a divide between men and women entering the STEM disciplines which has, of course, existed for decades.

“This could lead to intelligent women, with potentially promising careers in STEM ahead of them, being inhibited by societal misconceptions, which discourage them from following certain career paths.

“The anachronism that careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths is a route for men alone is thankfully dwindling, but we need it to be completely eradicated.

“It’s 2018, The Year of the Woman, so it’s time for this gap to close completely and for schools, colleges and business leaders to prove that these careers are viable and attractive prospects for young women.

“Here in Sandwell, it is particularly important to champion these subjects, with the area’s rich heritage in engineering and the sciences. It’s important to highlight that there are a number of local businesses that are working hard to encourage young women into STEM, by offering fantastic apprenticeship schemes, such as voestalpine Metsec plc, cold roll forming specialist. Metsec offers hands-on work experience and progression opportunities in a highly successful, international company. We have a great offering of businesses locally that invest in our youngsters’ futures and offer opportunities in the STEM disciplines, we just need more young women to take advantage of them now.

“There is also a broad range of STEM courses and apprenticeships on offer at Sandwell College, for both school-leavers and adults – so it’s never too late – including engineering, life sciences and computing.

“These subjects open the door to varied and fulfilling careers, such as doctor, aerospace engineer, archaeologist, microbiologist, political scientist, robotics engineer and much, much more.

“In this era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) – which is marked by emerging technological breakthroughs in a number of fields, including robotics, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing – it is such an exciting time to be involved in the STEM disciplines.

“It is inspiring to think that young girls today could be doing jobs in the future that don’t even exist yet, such is the nature of current technological advances.

“During their recent visit to Millennium Point in Birmingham on International Women’s Day, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were introduced to the “Meet the STEMettes” group – an inspirational group of women that aims to inspire the next generation of young women to pursue careers in STEM in the West Midlands. The new duchess is a well-known feminist and a great figurehead to encourage young women into these fields.

“With historical role models like Marie Curie – the only woman in history to receive two Nobel Prizes for her contributions to science – and Russian Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who in 1963 made history by becoming the first woman in space – females should feel inspired to step up and prove that we can take on the STEM subjects successfully.

“We need to be asking: do enough young women know what STEM is and do they fully appreciate the options that are open to them? If the answers are no, we need to shout more about what is on offer to girls and women on their doorsteps, bridge the gap and make STEM more widely known and accessible.”




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