Connecting Girls and Women in STEM

Last year, Ayrshire College launched Ayrshire Connects – a mentoring network for female STEM students across our campuses and courses to connect with each other, with students in other colleges and universities, and with women in the industry sectors they aspire to enter.

ayrshire connectsWhen girls and women start on science, technology, engineering and construction courses at Ayrshire College, we want to make sure they get the best possible experience that enables them to move into  a career in the sector of their choice.  

We want our students to have the chance to build networks with students in other colleges and universities. Read how Ayrshire Connects is helping students make these connections in this article about a visit to Glasgow University

At the Ayrshire Connects launch event last year, 150 girls and women had the privilege of hearing leading NASA figure, Sarah Murray, talk about her career. We are delighted that participants at our second annual Ayrshire Connects conference – Girls with Grit – will once again have the chance to hear from Sarah, this time on strategies for succeeding in your studies and career. If you’d like to attend, the details are in the graphic below. 

 
If you can’t make this event, watch Sarah’s talk from last year – it’s a long film but we promise that you will be glad you watched it!

Meet Ayrshire College students building careers in STEM

Find out what our female students say by clicking on the InSTEMagrams below.

Want to get involved in Ayrshire Connects?

As well as the national event and visits to other colleges and universities, Ayrshire Connects will introduce you to industry mentors, organise visits to employers and much more – your ideas and requests are what matters. 

Details on how to get in touch are available at http://www1.ayrshire.ac.uk/students/ayrshire-connects/.

Tackling gender segregation in the Modern Apprenticeship programme

Alyson Laird is a PhD research student at Glasgow Caledonian University. She works within the WiSE Research Centre which seeks to promote and make visible women’s contribution to Scotland’s economy. Her PhD research focuses on gender segregation in the Modern Apprenticeship programme in Scotland.

Alyson visited our Kilwinning Campus recently to have a chat about our approach to tackling gender imbalance in courses and apprenticeships. We invited Alyson to share the aims of her research with us in our blog.


I haven’t always been passionate about gender equality and feminism, but an inspiring lecturer at GCU encouraged me to think differently about the economy and society we live in. Since then, I have had a desire to be part of the change needed to tackle inequalities in our society, specifically gender inequalities.

My research focuses around the Modern Apprenticeship programme, and more specifically the gender segregation which exists within the programme. Gender segregation is where women and men are more likely to be found in jobs stereotypically associated with their gender. For example, less than 2% of those participating in construction and related apprenticeship frameworks are women – that’s only 77 out of over 5,000 participants! My research asks why this is the case and what is being done to change it.

Is it a problem?

This is a question I hear often. Maybe girls just want to work in childcare and hairdressing and boys want to work on building sites and shipyards? These are statements I hear when I discuss my research with people who aren’t aware of the extent of the problem.

Yes, it is a problem.

It’s a problem because the youngest members of our society are taught from a very early age that there are jobs for girls and jobs for boys. Arguably, things are changing – schools, for instance, are making massive changes in this area. You only have to watch kids’ TV for an afternoon or go into a toy shop to notice that gender stereotyping is everywhere. Girls play with dolls and dress up as princesses. Boys play with Lego and pretend to be superheroes. The world around children at the earliest ages can have an impact on the careers they decide to embark on later on.

It’s a problem because we have a gender pay gap, a situation where women in society are being paid less than men in society and much of this is to do with women and men being in jobs stereotypically associated with their gender. The jobs which women are most visible in are those which typically offer lower pay and are often under-valued in our society. Think of the important work that social care workers do? Why are they not being paid a better wage for the job they do, a job that requires a unique set of skills and recognised qualifications?

I don’t think it is just a case of girls wanting to do stereotypical women’s jobs and boys wanting to do stereotypical men’s jobs. I think there are structural and cultural constraints which influence the choices young people make, and hinder accessibility to certain sectors. And I think the Modern Apprenticeship programme has a massive role to play in helping to eliminate existing stereotypes.

What will I do?

There are over 25,000 young people starting apprenticeships every year in Scotland. The most popular apprenticeships are those within Construction & Related frameworks and those within Health & Social Care frameworks. These occupational groups are also the most gender segregated.

My research is looking at both – challenging what is being done to get more women into construction and addressing the low esteem within health & social care frameworks. I am doing this by firstly talking to as many stakeholders as possible. So, I am speaking to places like Ayrshire College who have been proactive in engaging with both sides of the issue through events like ThisAyrshireGirlCan and ThisManCares. The contribution from stakeholders is valuable, it allows me to explore what is going on in the Modern Apprenticeship programme and enhances my understanding of who does what in terms of funding and recruitment for example.

Secondly, I will chat with Modern Apprentices themselves – firstly through a survey and then through interviews. It is important that the voice of apprentices themselves comes through strongly within this research. The story the apprentices tell about their journey to do a Modern Apprenticeship, who influenced them, what challenges they faced, why they chose that particular route, is one of the most important parts of my research. It tells the real story of what’s going on and how things could be improved from people who have lived the experience.

Finally, I will engage with employers, asking them what they are doing to support apprentices and how they can play a role in improving gender equality within the programme.

Why am I doing this?

Because I want to see change.

The changes happening are too slow, the figures over the last ten years have hardly changed. I wonder why with all the efforts to make young people aware of what’s out there and with all the events which take place to encourage non-traditional careers, what has been missed? Hopefully my research will start to try and answer this question and I can help contribute to positive change for women in our society.

If you would like more information about my research please contact me at:

Alyson.Laird@gcu.ac.uk or follow my Twitter feed @AlysonLaird

 

 

ADAmant that we will attract more women into STEM!

Vice principal Jackie Galbraith shares her thoughts on the importance of recognising and celebrating women in STEM in the past, present and future.


It’s Ada Lovelace Day 2016, and Ayrshire College is ADAmant that we will attract more girls and women into science, engineering, technology and maths (STEM).

This is a key priority for us and we are working with schools, employers and national organisations to raise awareness of opportunities for women in STEM sectors, encourage take-up of STEM courses by girls and women, help students succeed on their courses, and connect female STEM students on different courses across the college, with students in other colleges and universities, and with women in industry.

Many people argue that there has never been a better time to be a woman in STEM. There are tens of thousands of high value, high quality jobs in sectors like digital and engineering. Employers don’t just need women to fill these jobs – they WANT them, because of the skills they bring! And, increasingly there are more diverse and equally valued routes to becoming a STEM professional – through college, apprenticeships and/or university.

But, we have a problem.

The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe. The proportion of young women taking STEM subjects at school, college and university is stubbornly low. And, incredibly, there is a smaller proportion of women studying and working in computing and digital technology now than when I was a computing student 30 years ago!

And yet, throughout history, women have played an important role in STEM . However, you need to seek them out! It’s important to recognise women from the past and present to stake our claim in this exciting world. Days like Ada Lovelace Day are about celebrating the pioneering, but often unknown or forgotten, work of women in fields like computing.

Women like Ada Lovelace, the mother of programming born 200 years ago who wrote the first ever computer programme 100 years before computers were even invented! Unlike her mentor Charles Babbage, whose analytical engine was the forerunner of the physical computer, Ada had the vision to imagine that a computer could create images and music, and not just do complicated sums.

Women like Scottish mathematician Mary Somerville (soon to be recognised on a £10 bank note), born in 1780 who, despite living in an age when women were discouraged from studying science, is credited with an instrumental role in the discovery of Neptune. Mary was the young Ada Lovelace ‘s mathematics tutor and mentor.

Florence Nightingale’s infographic

Women like Florence Nightingale, well known for her dedication to injured soldiers during the Crimean War, but less famous for her mathematical ability. Florence’s analysis of large amounts of data, presented graphically ,demonstrated that significantly more men were dying from preventable diseases in hospital than from wounds inflicted in battle. This led to the government allocating funds to improve the cleanliness of hospitals. Hundreds of years before the terms ‘big data’, ‘data scientist’ and ‘data visualisation’ became the latest big things, Florence was a big deal!

It is not just rich, privileged women who have made an impact over the centuries. Jeannie Riley, one of many Glasgow female munitions workers during the First World War, dreamed of becoming an engineer. Sadly, when Jeanie’s husband and other men returned from the trenches in France, the aspirations of women like Jeanie were denied and they had to give up their jobs in industry.

Like Jeannie, American Mary Sherman Morgan dropped out of education during World War II to take a job at a munitions factory. After the war ended, she began working at North American Aviation as an aspiring rocket scientist. In the 1940s, an elite team of mathematicians and scientists started working on a project that would carry the US into space. Eventually becoming NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, what made it unusual was that many of those who charted the course to space exploration were women!

In January 2017, a new film tells the story of African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson and her two colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, whose calculations helped John Glenn became the first American astronaut to make a complete orbit of the Earth. Known as computers, these women played a critical role in space exploration.

It is important to recognise and celebrate the contributions of women scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians in the past. This is becoming easier with films like Hidden Figures and books like Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women who Propelled us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars.

It is even more important to acknowledge and promote women in STEM today. Today’s women in STEM include our own students and staff (click on the links to find out more). They include the STEM ambassadors in schools across Ayrshire, as well as women in STEM industry sectors making an impact on companies in the region.

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Tomorrow’s women in STEM are the girls in today’s nursery, primary and secondary schools – some of whom are connecting to engineering, science, construction and technology through activities like Primary Engineer, the Bloodhound Challenge, and Ayrshire College’s Girls in STEM and CoderDojo workshops.

We remain ADAmant that we will challenge gender stereotyping in career and learning choices, and that we will encourage more girls and women to embark on exciting STEM courses.

If you’re just as ADAmant, please get in touch.


 

Jen is our champion!

Jen WilsonHNC Mechanical Engineering student Jennifer Wilson was recently appointed as the Interconnect Scotland Student Champion for Ayrshire College.

Interconnect Scotland is a network for women studying science, engineering, technology (STEM) and the built environment across Scotland. It encourages students to set up their own networks at their college or university.

Interconnect Student Champions are ambassadors for STEM within their college or university, and promote Interconnect activities locally.

Ayrshire Connects is Ayrshire College’s network for female STEM students and it was launched by senior NASA manager Sarah Murray on 13 June 2016. Ayrshire Connects will connect female students studying STEM, construction and trades courses across the College with each other, with students in other colleges and universities, and with inspiring women in industry.

In this article, Jen talks about what motivated her to study engineering and her new role as Interconnect Student Champion.


My interest stems from school

My interest in STEM subjects started when I was a pupil at James Hamilton Academy in Kilmarnock. I leaned towards technical subjects like Graphic Communications and Woodwork; as well as creative subjects like Photography and Art and Design. I am naturally quite a curious person and enjoy finding out how things work. Design and technology are such a huge part of everyday life now from the technology we carry, to how we travel and create entertainment. Studying these subjects made school a very enjoyable experience for me.

I had a fantastic teacher at school who encouraged me to do my best and I left school with three Highers and two Advanced Highers. When it came to choosing a career path, I looked at teaching as the route I wanted to pursue. I started with a Classroom Assistant course and progressed onto HNC Childcare. However, I soon figured out that this wasn’t the course for me and decided to change direction.

After that, I didn’t know what to do. I became the carer for my grandmother for two years, followed by a period of working for William Hill. After a bad day at work I knew this wasn’t what I wanted to do and decided to find a new career path.

Accessing a STEM career

By this point I felt I had been out of education for quite a long time and wanted to take my time getting back into it. I didn’t have the same confidence in myself about studying and needed time to get back into the student mind set and lifestyle. I thought about my interests in technical subjects and decided to take an Access to STEM course at Ayrshire College.

I knew what to expect at college because I had already been in that environment. However, this time was so much better as I felt I was pursuing the right option for me. I had a fantastic class which made going to college a great experience. My class was evenly split with four boys and four girls who were all as interested in the subjects as me, which meant the atmosphere was great in the classroom.

On the Access to STEM course I studied Science, Maths, Chemistry, Physics and English most of which I hadn’t really studied much of before. I would have really enjoyed some work experience and guest speakers during the course, which is now something I am very passionate about making sure others experience. Indeed it is one of the reasons I decided to apply to be the Interconnect Student Champion.

The new me!

So far from my time at College I have increased my confidence, made new friends, narrowed down what I want to do as a career path and eased myself into the student lifestyle. This year I will be studying HNC Mechanical Engineering at and have deferred entry for next year for the University of Glasgow to study Product Design.

We are the champions

I applied to become an Interconnect Scotland Student Champion after attending the launch night of Ayrshire Connects, the College’s new network for female STEM and construction students. After completing an application form, I was invited to an interview over Skype. I was asked to discuss all the things I would do to get the word out about joining Ayrshire Connects and what kind of events I would like to organise to raise awareness of STEM careers for women.

I am very excited to start my new role as Interconnect Student Champion along with my studies this year. I have a huge amount of passion for STEM and want to make a difference for women in STEM. There is, even in 2016, a very low percentage of women who take STEM subjects at school, college and university or work in STEM industries. It can feel very isolating studying technical subjects at school or college with mostly male students. It’s not necessarily the number of men and women in your class, it’s the knowledge that the industry as a whole is male dominated. I want to be able to bring women together to reduce the feeling of being alone in a course or workplace. I want to get them talking about what we can do to make things better for working in these industries and how we can go about getting more women into STEM.

My first gig

I am looking forward to attending the Scottish Funding Council Gender Action Plan conference in August, where I will have the opportunity to hear from the Scottish Government’s Minister for Employability and Training, James Hepburn MSP. I am sharing the platform with our Vice Principal Jackie Galbraith who is speaking about the College’s approach to taking gender out of the equation. It will also be great to hear from City of Glasgow College about their women-only HNC Mechanical Engineering course they delivered last year to find out how effective this has been.

I’m also really excited about promoting Ayrshire Connects to new students at the Freshers’ Fairs on the College’s three campuses in September.

An exciting future

My future plans are expanding everyday now that I feel I have found what I’m good at and what I want to do with my life. One of the maths lecturers at Ayrshire College, Alan Carpenter, really inspired me to go out and get what I want in my career. He took the time to listen to me and get to know my learning style. It’s amazing how easy and fun maths can be when you get to play games and have the maths related to everyday life. I think in the future I would like to be an Engineering Lecturer and inspire others as much as Alan has done for his students. I want to make a difference!

Want to know more?

Interconnect Scotland: http://www.equatescotland.org.uk/interconnect/interconnect-student-network

Ayrshire Connects: http://www1.ayrshire.ac.uk/students/ayrshire-connects/

Ayrshire Connects.jpg

Space women connect with Ayrshire female STEM students

For National Women in Engineering Day 2016, we are delighted to share the thoughts of three leading women in science and engineering who spent all of last week at Ayrshire College with 200 school pupils and students on the International Space School Educational Trust’s (ISSET) Mission Discovery Programme.

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Sarah Murray is Assistant Division Chief of EVA, Robotic and Crew Systems at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). On Monday 13 June, Sarah was the keynote speaker at the launch of Ayrshire Connects – a mentoring network for female STEM students across the college to connect to each other, to students in other colleges and universities, to employers and women in the industry sectors they aspire to enter, and to senior pupils in secondary schools across Ayrshire.

Here’s what Sarah and her colleagues had to say about women in science, technology, engineering and maths.


Sarah Murray, NASA’s Assistant Division Chief of EVA, Robotic and Crew Systems, speaking at the launch of Ayrshire Connects

It was my love of math that sparked the initial interest in electrical engineering for me. When I looked for something to study, the main thing I looked at was ‘where can I use my math?’ And electrical engineering was a great choice.

I am absolutely impressed by how Ayrshire College is engaging with young females into STEM. Especially when looking at the statistics that were shown of the small percentage of women in mathematics, technology and engineering.

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I thought it was a great idea to bring these young women together so they can network and hear my story. If they got something out of it – and it seems like they did – then I’m really glad I was able to inspire them. This is a great venue for an event like this.

If they could take just one thing from my talk it would be: know what your goals are and no matter what bumps you hit in the road, just get over them and keep pushing. You need support, determination, and perseverance to reach your goals. You’re always going to run into obstacles so whether you go over them, under them, or through them, don’t let them deter you.


Rhonda Foale, who worked at NASA for eight years, speaking during Mission Discovery 

I remember Neil Armstrong walking on the moon on my 11th birthday. That was really exciting.

I was really interested in Geology and the University of Houston had Space Geology, which I thought was fascinating. So, when the Space Science programme became known to me I was thrilled about that.

I worked for NASA for eight years in the Remote Manipulator System section. The arm was physically connected to the Space Shuttle and it would be used to lift things out of the cargo bay and then deploy them into space. I worked space missions in Mission Control and I also worked with the Canadians for a visual system that would help the astronauts use the arm to put the Space Station together. I enjoyed NASA very much. NASA has a great, almost family like atmosphere to work in.

I’ve also worked in the oil industry, which was definitely male dominated. It’s really good to just do your best, you don’t want them to treat you differently – you just want them to treat you professionally. Do your job really well. A woman is perfectly capable of doing these jobs. NASA, being a government agency, automatically want to set a good example, so they seek out women and minorities. It’s very fulfilling working on teams towards really interesting goals. Women can do it and it’s very rewarding.

My advice to young women would be to at least consider science and engineering. Because there are fascinating things you can do that can allow you to have a really fulfilling career in many fields. Come to a space school and get a great experience, learn to work in teams and give presentations. It’s something that you can try and be amazed by how much you like it.

I’ve been working loosely with Scottish space schools for about 15 years, and I’ve seen students get really enthusiastic and say “I never even considered this before, I didn’t realise and now I’m so glad I came to this because now I see all of these opportunities that are open to me”. We hear from these students after a year and they’ve just really blossomed and love what they’re doing.


Julie Keeble, Chief Scientist with ISSET, speaking at the launch of Ayrshire Connects

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First of all, I’d like to say this is probably the best Women in STEM event that I’ve been to during my career!

Having someone like Sarah Murray – who’s so inspirational to me (and I’ve been working in space for a while) – there’s no doubt that the students would have got something from it in what you can do if you believe in yourself and you keep on trying. If you don’t give up, and go through every door that opens, try your hardest in any position you do regardless of the tasks, you will get somewhere.

Last week one day I was part of a team scooping eggs off the floor, another week I’m sending experiments to the International Space Station. Working as a team means doing every part of that job that helps the team as a whole – regardless of what level the job is. People notice that you work hard and you never know where that will take you.

Events like Mission Discovery are excellent for young women. These events were not available to me when I was younger and so my career options were very narrow as a result of that – I had to get to university before I knew which options were available. To have young people from schools and Ayrshire College being able to see what is possible is brilliant. It shouldn’t be that you have to wait until you’re in your 20’s before you realise what you want to do. These events help you determine that at an earlier age and then you can look forward to having those aspirations.

The ISSET Mission Discovery programme encourages students to believe in their dreams, to work in their teams and believe that anything is possible. At the end of this week’s Mission Discovery – one of these teams will be having their experiment sent up to the International Space Station. You can’t beat that. What I say to winning students is – when you apply to university and apply for jobs, when they see on your CV that you’ve sent an experiment to the International Space Station – you’re going to get an interview!

Mission Discovery changes lives, regardless of whether the students taking part win the final prize or not. Everyone who enters the programme is a winner because they change over the week. They get team building skills, they increase their confidence, and we have different pupils on Friday to the ones who came on Monday. I still get inspired by Mission Discovery programme, and I’ve done several of the programmes, but it never fails to make me feel like we’re changing lives.


If you would like to find out more about Ayrshire Connects please contact Jackie Galbraith at jackie.galbraith@ayrshire.ac.uk

Raising the profile of our female engineering apprentices

Ayrshire College supports over 800 apprentices each year, mainly in the STEM sectors of engineering, automotive and construction. National Women in Engineering Day is on Thursday 23 June with a theme of raising profiles. In this blog post we highlight some of our female engineering apprentices.

Raising the profiles of women in traditionally male-dominated occupations is very important in helping young girls imagine themselves in those roles. The following film captures how, early on in their education, children already define career opportunities as male and female.

Probably the best way for young women to decide if a career in engineering is the right one for them is to hear from other young women who have made that choice and are building careers in the sector. Click on the photos below to meet some of our science, technology, engineering and construction students.

Want more? Watch these short films.

Abbie Robb, Prestwick Aircraft Maintenance Ltd 

Anna Manson, Spirit Aerosystems

Kirsty Harvey, Woodward Inc.

Chloe Grieg, GlaxoSmithKline

Tammy Niven, GlaxoSmithKline

Megan Forrest, Hyspec Engineering


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Do we give girls a real choice?

Talat Yaqoob is Director of Equate Scotland, the national expert on women in science, engineering, technology and the built environment. Equate Scotland’s team works with colleges, universities, employers, women and girls to increase the number of women studying and working in STEM.

As we approach National Women in Engineering Day 2016, Talat asks ‘do we give girls a real choice?’


For a number of years now, Scotland has prioritised increasing the number of women in science, engineering, technology and the built environment. This is for two reasons; firstly because we have a huge skills shortage in Scotland. By 2020 we need 140,000 more engineers, if we do not engage some of the 51% of the population who are women, that is a target we will never meet. Secondly, because it is the economically sensible thing to do. Scotland’s economy is growing but it is growing in the STEM industries the most, to capitalise on this, of course we will need more women. The Royal College of Edinburgh estimates that an equal number of women in the STEM industry is worth around £71 million to the Scottish economy.

So for all those reasons, our work is vital. But I often still get asked, if girls are not interested – why are you pushing them into STEM? Maybe they simply choose to do other subjects? The reality of course is a problem with the word “choice”.

From birth we stereotype children. Think of the aisles in a toy shop or children’s clothing shop – what do you notice? Rows dedicated to “boy things” and rows dedicated to “girl things”. The boys’ things will be blue, will involve physical activity and often some form of construction or cars. The girls’ things will be pink, will be about caring, cooking or appearance and will not be as intellectually stimulating. Is that real choice? If a girl sees a science kit she is interested in, but the packaging has a boy on it and phrases like “rocket making – the sky is the limit for boys” (that is real, by the way) would that girl look at it and purchase it despite its stereotyping? Or internalise it and think that the toy is not for her?

Later in life, as young women and men make subject choices these stereotypes remain as key influencers over them. Girls have grown up thinking science and maths are too tough for them, and boys have grown up thinking arts or home economics is not right for them. This thinking is of course wrong but, when those are the messages you have had from birth, it is a lot to expect a 15 year old young person to defy them. Last year, 76% of the students taking SCQF 6-7 in physics were boys, 82% of computing at the level were boys and 64% of pupils in product design were boys. At this point the “choice” has already been restricted for what girls can move into at college and university level. What we do see, however, is that for the small number of girls who take these subjects they outperform boys academically – busting the age old myth that science or maths is too tough for girls.

When making career “choices” women students, regardless of having excelled in the needed subjects, are still channelled into sciences which have a higher intake of women already; life science, biology, veterinary science and medicine. Engineering, chemistry, physic, computing and built environment are rarely promoted to them.

So back to the original question; maybe girls simply choose to do other subjects?

We can clearly see that they are making a decision from a restricted number of choices – can we truly call this choice at all? It is not a natural occurrence that only 24% of 16 year old girls take physics. If we were to remove institutionalised attitudes, this would be much closer to 50%. Our job is to re-think these attitudes and not push girls into STEM subjects, but rather give them a real and diverse choice in the first place, choices which include all options, whether childcare or chemistry.

We owe it to girls with an interest and ambition to pursue STEM and we owe it to the future of Scotland’s economy to give girls a real choice.

Thursday is National Women in Engineering Day and, whilst we celebrate the girls and women pursuing engineering, we need to highlight the hundreds more who could be pursuing it had we given them engineering as an option from the start.

Ayrshire College has taken the issue of Women in STEM seriously and I am very excited that Equate Scotland will be working closely with the college. The recent #ThisAyrshireGirlCan campaign has been a source of inspiration for many, and I know that it will have switched on a light for many girls who thought science and engineering wasn’t for them. Every time we switch on that light, we erase outdated stereotypes a little more and open up the world of STEM to the talents and creativity of women across Scotland.


 

Tackling gender imbalance in colleges and universities – whose job is it anyway?

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) held a workshop on 31 May 2016 to share the findings of research carried out by the Higher Education Academy which mapped the approaches being used to address gender imbalance in Scotland’s colleges and universities, to assess what approaches work best and why. The findings of the research are outlined in a report, Whose Job is it Anyway? Analysis of approaches to tackling gender imbalances at the subject level in Scotland’s colleges and universities.

The aim of the research was to:

  • Map initiatives in Scotland’s colleges and universities to tackle gender imbalances
  • Assess what approaches work best and why
  • Assess what approaches don’t work and understand what lessons can be learned
  • Recommend actions to achieve sustained improvements.

One of the key objectives in Ayrshire College’s 2014-17 Strategic Plan is to challenge gender stereotyping in career and learning choices. Significant efforts have been made on this priority for action over the past two years, and the work the College is doing to tackle gender imbalance in subject areas like care, engineering and computing was referenced extensively throughout the Higher Education Academy report.

At the workshop representatives from colleges, universities, NUS Scotland, Skills Development Scotland, Equate Scotland, the Equality Challenge Unit and the College Development Network heard presentations from Fiona Burns, Access Policy Lead at SFC and from the author of the research report, Dr Pauline Hanesworth from the Higher Education Academy.

Vice Principal Jackie Galbraith, a member of the SFC Gender Steering Group, took part in the workshop, along with Angela Alexander, Ayrshire College Student President and Jane Henderson, the College’s Developing the Young Workforce Manager.

In this article, Jackie outlines the challenges we are trying to address, summarises the conclusions of the report and describes the approach taken by Ayrshire College to tackling gender imbalance.


The context and the challenge

In June 2016, statistical publications from Skills Development Scotland (Modern Apprenticeship Statistics Full Year Report 2015/16) and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (Annual Statistics Report 2015) demonstrated that there is still much to do to address gender imbalance in Modern Apprenticeship frameworks, college courses and subject qualifications at school.

Scotland’s youth employment strategy, Developing the Young Workforce, has a KPI (key performance indicator) to reduce the number of Modern Apprenticeship frameworks with a 75:25 or worse gender balance to 60% of  frameworks by 2021. In 2015/16, 74% of MA frameworks had a gender balance of 75:25 or worse.

For colleges, one of the KPIs is to increase by five percentage points the minority gender share in each of the ten largest and most imbalanced subjects by 2021. These are long-term targets which rely on shifting deeply ingrained social and cultural factors. As an illustration of the challenge, look at female and male entries to Higher National Certificates/Diplomas in 2015.  The challenge continues at university and the following diagram, based on figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency published in February 2016, shows that the numbers of female graduates in areas like the physical sciences, computing and the built environment declined in 2015 compared to the previous year.


So, we have a problem. At a time when high quality, high value jobs abound in sectors like digital, the built environment and engineering, these industries persistently fail to attract women – despite considerable efforts by many employers and others to address this. Similarly, jobs growth in the early years sector is clear and the value of having more men in that sector is increasingly understood – yet the number of males continues to be low.

Enter the Scottish Funding Council’s gender action plan.

The SFC Gender Action Plan 

Fiona Burns outlined the ambitions set out in the Scottish Funding Council’s interim Gender Action Plan which was published in February 2016. By 2020, SFC is asking all colleges and universities to ensure that:

  • Actions to improve gender equality are mainstreamed
  • There are targeted approaches to tackling underrepresentation at a subject level
  • All widening participation initiatives will be focused on achieving more admissions from males and females.

By 2030, SFC is asking all colleges and universities to ensure that no subject has an extreme gender imbalance (75:25) and universities to reduce the gap between males and females in undergraduate study to five percentage points.

Fiona invited workshop participants to identify the key messages from the report that are of most useful in tackling gender imbalances, and what the SFC should do to enable the sectors to use the research to shape policy and practice. The outcomes from discussions on the day will inform the final version of the Gender Action Plan which is due to be published later in the summer.

Research findings

Dr Pauline Hanesworth presented the findings and recommendations of the research project, describing a framework of action. Seven themes for tackling gender imbalance effectively emerged in the research. These were:

  1. Strategic approaches – adopt a stronger strategic oversight that could maximise staff capacity and impact potential
  2. Mechanisms for success – capitalise on existing mechanisms
  3. Evidencing impact – develop understanding of what the results of tackling gender imbalances look like
  4. External enablers – connect to external activity
  5. Student involvement – support for the continuity and capacity of students as partners in tackling gender imbalances
  6. Cross-sector support – colleges and universities learning from each other’s specific experiences and expertise
  7. Subject focus – focus on all subject imbalances.

A framework for action, represented in the diagram below, was offered for consideration.


At the centre of the framework is a commitment to support subject choice and challenge gender stereotypes. Two foundations are required to support this commitment – institutional infrastructure and sector support.

1. Institutional infrastructure

  • Systems for strategic oversight and institutional commitment
  • Staff development and resource support
  • Mechanisms to develop and support effective relationships.

2. Sector support

  • Mechanisms for collaborative partnership working
  • Capacity and finance
  • Further research and resources.

Supporting these foundations are four areas of focus:

  1. Influencing the influencers
  2. Raising awareness and impacting on aspirations
  3. Encouraging applications
  4. Supporting student success

Finally, a number of enablers in the outer circle of the framework diagram were identified to ensure successful application of the model.

The main recommendations in the report are that colleges and universities should:

1. Develop institutional commitment to tackle student gender participation imbalances

2. Develop the capacity and motivation of all staff to tackle student gender participation imbalances

3. Adopt a theory of change methodology for the development of approaches

4. Develop holistic and longitudinal approaches that support young people throughout their educational choice process

5. Adopt a multi-pronged approach that combines the four areas of focus described above

6. Support student involvement in approaches through the development of student-led, student/staff co-created and student-delivered initiatives

7. Work in collaboration with other institutions and in partnership with other sectors

In addition, national sector agencies are encouraged to:

8. Develop a national campaign and strategy for tackling of gender inequality

9. Create a virtual and physical hub of and for practitioners tackling student gender participation imbalances

10. Broaden the remits of sector agencies and organisations to support the gender equality work of colleges and universities


The Ayrshire College approach

So, whose job is it to tackle gender imbalance in college and university courses? The Higher Education Academy report reached the conclusion that it is all of our jobs.

We agree, and well before this research was conducted we were already making progress on the recommendations subsequently outlined for colleges. Tackling inequalities underpins all of the College’s strategic documents including our Outcome Agreement and our work to address gender imbalance in careers and learning choices takes many forms.

Sparking an interest in STEM at a young age is very important and the College does this in a range of ways, for example by supporting Primary Engineer in primary schools, by running CoderDojo coding clubs (including girls-only clubs) for young people from the age of 7 and by organising STEM workshops for female pupils in college campuses. This interest in STEM needs to be sustained throughout primary and secondary school and onto college, and influencing those who influence young people’s subject and career choices is vital. For example, at our recent annual employers’ dinner the theme was tackling gender stereotypes in careers.

Central to our approach to tackling gender imbalance is working with students and we support the Ayrshire College Student Association’s  #ThisAyrshireGirlCan campaign to encourage women to study for careers which are traditionally dominated by men in areas like engineering, technology and construction. In March 2016, in partnership with the College, the Student Association created a film to celebrate female STEM students.

Working in partnership with local, regional and national organisations is important in tackling gender imbalance and underpins the Ayrshire College approach. Supported with funding from Skills Development Scotland, we produced a video series #WhatIActuallyDo to tackle gender imbalance in STEM apprenticeships by raising awareness of what apprentices actually do in their jobs. The short films featured five female engineering apprentices working in Hyspec Engineering, GSK, Prestwick Aircraft Maintenance, Spirit Aerosystems and Woodward. As well as interviews with the apprentices on what motivated them to pursue their chosen career and short films showing a day in the life of the apprentice, there are interviews with their employers talking about the benefits of apprenticeships to their companies.

The young women in these short films offer positive role models for others. One of the apprentices featured in the video series, Abbie Robb, reached the final for the Interconnect Scotland STEM Student of the Year award – the only apprentice and college student to do so! On International Women’s Day this year, Abbie spoke about her experience as an apprentice aircraft engineer to an audience of over 100 primary and secondary school girls and female STEM students.

When young women embark on STEM courses, we want to ensure they get the best possible experience which builds their confidence in moving on after college in the sector of their choice. On Monday 13 June we launched Ayrshire Connects – a mentoring network for female STEM students across the College to connect to each other, to students in other colleges and universities, to employers and women in the industry sectors they aspire to enter, and to senior pupils in secondary schools across Ayrshire. We are looking forward to working with Equate Scotland to connect the Ayrshire network to Interconnect Scotland.

ayrshire connects

Throughout the year, the College takes every opportunity to promote women in STEM by organising events and social media campaigns, for example around Girls in ICT Day in April every year and Ada Lovelace Day in October. Look out for new stories on our blog leading up to National Women in Engineering Day (#NWED16) on 23 June.

And, it’s not just about supporting women in male-dominated areas – we also have sustained activity to encourage boys and men into female-dominated sectors like care through our #ThisManCares campaign.

Follow us on social media to find out more about how we are tackling gender imbalance or get in touch with me at jackie.galbraith@ayrshire.ac.uk – we would love to hear from you.


Want to know more? Click on the links below

Whose Job is it Anyway? Higher Education Academy report

SFC Interim Gender Action Plan

Alison Malcolm, SFC Policy Officer – blog post on the SFC Gender Action Plan

#ThisManCares – Ayrshire College campaign to attract men into courses and careers in care

#ThisAyrshireGirlCan – Ayrshire College Student Association campaign to promote women in STEM

#WhatIActuallyDo – Ayrshire College video campaign highlighting female apprentices in science and engineering

This Man Cares – Ali Coughtrie

Ali coughtrie - Men in CareAyrshire College is holding a Men in Care event on 26 May 2016 to encourage men to consider a career in the health and social care sector. This sector is expanding and demand for qualified staff is set to rise.
In this blog series we find out more about men making a career in health, social care and early years.

First, we speak to Ali Coughtrie who started his career as a tree surgeon and is now retraining for a career in counselling.


I am a tree surgeon to trade and I have worked in environmental education, through which I have been involved in mountain rescue. Throughout my life I have been relatively unaware of the care sector as, other than the doctor and dentist, I have not used these services. However, when my mum had a stroke it made me think about health and the support services that help us to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

It was a defining moment and I made a life-changing decision to retrain in health and social care. Initially, I investigated the Scottish Ambulance Service with a view to becoming a passenger transport assistant. I soon realised that all my qualifications and experience were related to my previous jobs in the outdoors and I needed to get some relevant qualifications.

I enrolled in a NC Health and Social Care course which was a great foundation for my learning. I was honoured to receive an award for excellence at the end of my course. During the NC course I loved the psychology classes so much that this year I am studying the HNC Counselling course. I was encouraged to get involved in volunteering to gain relevant experience. I work on the South Ayrshire Befriending Project and I am also doing driver training with the Ayrshire Hospice.

Counselling is a therapy that allows a person to talk about their problems and feelings in a confidential and dependable environment. A counsellor is trained to listen with empathy, by putting themselves in your shoes. They can help you deal with any negative thoughts and feelings you have. Although at the end of this course I can’t practise as a counsellor as I need supervised experience, it is a stepping stone to other courses that will enable me to become a counsellor. Some people in my class are going on to university to study Psychology and train as a psychologist. Another option which we can consider is a Diploma in Counselling through the Glasgow Therapy Centre. Here you get 180 hours of 1-1 counselling experience and 20 hours of group counselling. Another pathway I can explore is Mindfulness and Yoga training as I practise and enjoy both of these.

Counselling is a fascinating area of study where you learn about which approaches are best for a particular client. I’ve got a lot out of this course, especially more self-awareness as we are encouraged to keep journals of our everyday experiences. I’ve changed how I respond to situations, as I stop and think now before I speak and I am even more open minded.

I’ve also been given opportunities to attend NHS short courses on a range of interesting topics including dementia, legal highs and child protection. I have enjoyed interacting with a wide variety of people on these courses and it has enhanced the learning we do at college.

I was a bit worried before I came to the college that I would be the only man. However, there are about six men out of twenty on the course, and I have a number of friends and colleagues through my volunteering that are male, so I think things are changing and there is more of a mixed workforce now. I think it’s important to have both male and female staff in the care sector because clients may respond better to the care giver if they feel more comfortable with a man or woman.

I would encourage others who are thinking of changing their career to give the care profession a go. If you are a good listener, have empathy, enjoy working with people and can be non-judgemental – it could be for you. You need to be prepared to be self-critical and take on board constructive criticism from your colleagues. It’s a rewarding career where you can help people who find themselves in a vulnerable position.

#ThisManCares


The HNC Counselling course runs three days a week from 9am – 4pm in Ayr. Course applications are open for August 2016. Early application is advised as this course is very popular. To find out more please email Lynsey.reid@ayrshire.ac.uk or phone 01294 559000 ext 3249.

 

 

Guest Post – Alison Malcolm on a Gender Action Plan for colleges and universities

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) aims to tackle gender imbalance in professions like childcare, engineering, technology, hair and beauty, and construction. Ayrshire College vice principal Jackie Galbraith is a member of the Funding Council’s Gender Steering Group and invited Alison Malcolm, SFC Policy Analysis Officer, to summarise the recently published interim Gender Action Plan for colleges and universities.


Gender segregation stubbornly persists in many occupations in Scotland. Women continue to be under-represented in growing industries like engineering, technology and construction; and men are under-represented in occupations like teaching, nursing and hairdressing.

This is nothing new, but there are now ambitious plans to improve gender equality in Scotland’s colleges and universities.

The Scottish Funding Council invests around £1.5 billion of public money each year in the further and higher education sectors, and outcome agreements set out what colleges and universities plan to deliver for their funding allocation. For 2016-17 outcome agreements, the SFC has published guidance to address gender imbalance at a subject level in both colleges and universities.

Employers have told us that qualified male childcare workers are in high demand, yet this is one of the most imbalanced areas of study – 95% of students studying childcare-related courses in Scottish colleges between 2011 and 2015 were female.

Similarly, female ICT and construction graduates are highly sought after in industries which are facing significant skills gaps and actively seeking to be more representative of society as a whole.

In the Gender Action Plan Interim Report published in February 2016 (final version due in May) the SFC wants colleges to tackle the most imbalanced ‘super-classes’ as a priority and ensure that by 2030 no subject has a gender imbalance greater than 75:25.

Such imbalances continue to exist partly because of the gender stereotypes that all too often determine the subjects people choose at school and college. The choices students make about their courses affect career pathways and create “women’s jobs” and “men’s jobs”. This, in turn, affects wages, career earning potential and career progression opportunities.

The SFC’s first Gender Action Plan also includes aims for universities where male undergraduates, especially those from a deprived background, are currently under-represented. It aims to reduce the gap between the number of male and female undergraduates to 5 percent.

When we were talking to people about developing the Gender Action Plan, we heard from many in Scotland’s further and higher education sectors who believe that, while they could do something about gender segregation at college and university, ultimately they are working with young people who already have ingrained beliefs about the abilities of girls and boys.

The solution therefore needs to be multi-faceted. In our discussions many people stressed the importance of a ‘whole system’ approach to tackle fundamental beliefs about the roles of women and men. SFC recognises the importance of this and is working with partners like Education Scotland, the national body for learning and teaching in schools, to tackle gender equality at all stages of a person’s journey through education.

We need to ensure that all students, regardless of background or personal circumstances, have the best chance of accessing the right education for them – one which leads to sustainable employment. Whether Scotland, or any other country, can prosper and be economically successful depends upon the strengths and talent of all of its young people.

Our belief is that the workforce in sectors like engineering or early years education should not be restricted to the talent of half the population – it should be open to all.


 

 

More information

Keep up to date with developments on the SFC Gender Action Plan by checking http://www.sfc.ac.uk/Priorities/Access/GenderActionPlan/GenderActionPlan.aspx