I went to a meeting about growth accelerator programmes a couple of weeks ago. The company behind the particular programme had invested in a tech-based company from Liverpool and wanted to see if there were any other brilliant propositions to get on board with. Now, I am proud of my home town and I am especially proud of its burgeoning tech community with groups like Liverpool Girl Geeks, DoES Liverpool, Connected Liverpool and of course Baltic Creative Campus leading the way from the independents and of course our massively respected universities. What didn;t make me proud was that out of the 15 or so people these, only 2 others where women, one who had popped into see what was happening having been at a meeting next door, and one who was these representing a women in business support organisation. I was the only other woman vaguely connected to the tech side of business and my link was tenuous. Looking around the room, having rapidly realised the accelerator programme was not for me, my mind started to drift. Why weren’t there more women here?
I have always been a bit of a feminist. My extended family was certainly more make than female growing up, but was dominated by strong women, so I never felt I couldn’t do anything the boys did and neither did the boys. There was no boys vs girls atmosphere, we were all just kids. It was empowering at first but also confusing when, as I grew up, I increasingly encountered boys and men who saw me as different to and, frankly, less than themselves. I simply had no idea how to handle that. My initial confusion eventually led to a low level of militancy, choosing my battles but fighting them well.
The main man in my life growing up was, and is, one of the people with the most unshakeable belief in me, who never assumed anything about my interests because I am a girl. He is the reason I adore football, why I knew the offside rule at the age of five and why I love rock music. he is also a mathematician, so I know that my decision to follow an Arts based path in life was not for a lack of a role model within my family. My career decisions have always been based on a combination of what makes me happy, what I am good at and what my annoyingly present medical condition allows me to achieve. But I was really good at Maths as a child. My dad once let me have a go at a mock GCSE when I was 9 and I passed. He even went as far as showing his class my test result to motivate them, because I beat most of their scores. (Side note, this has a whole story attached about the one week I was cool in primary school, but that is for another, more personal blog….) So, why, when my career choices have been based on what I am good at, did Maths not factor in at all?
I have to look outside my family. In school, science lessons were pretty dull, They must have been, I can only remember one of them and yet I can recall almost every book we read as a class and many of the history projects. I know from my own teaching experience that the more passionate a teacher is about a topic, the better they can teach it. So if, growing up, the only teachers I had were women, who had little or no understanding and enthusiasm for science this is no wonder. The only woman I can genuinely remember seeing involved in anything remotely STEM related on TV was Judith Hann presenting Tomorrow’s World. While I can now look back and recognise just how freaking awesome that made her, at the time, she definitely wasn’t what a ten year old could call cool.
The presentation of women and STEM in wider society may well have contributed to my decision and while I am happy with my path, that doesn’t mean others should have their options limited. I think I may have chosen another battle.