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You can’t be what you can’t see

Published: Aug 27, 2020 4 min read


We rely on role models to provide inspirational examples and stories to fuel our STEM career aspirations. This is especially important for under-represented groups where we have excellent visible role models, but they are not always in the limelight.

As a civil engineer, I feel there are huge misconceptions about STEM careers. I often receive comments, both from young people and adults, including: “Is it like architecture? Engineers have to be really brilliant at math; do you wear a hard hat every day? Engineering sounds boring.”  These misconceptions need to be addressed so that we are inspiring future generations to follow a pathway into a STEM career before they rule it out with ideas that those careers are ‘boring’!
It is especially important to businesses to attract and grow a diverse, skilled workforce, especially as another common misconception about many STEM careers is that only a certain type of person can thrive in these roles. “You can’t be what you can’t see”, is a phrase commonly associated with conversations about diversity in STEM. If we promote under-represented groups more then we inspire young people from those groups. Parents, teachers and young people from all demographics can benefit from meeting role models, like our STEM Ambassadors!
STEM Ambassadors are volunteers from a wide range of fields who work to inspire young people to pursue STEM subjects and careers. Meeting STEM Ambassadors can provide great inspiration and motivation for young people. If young people can see those carving out a path in STEM, the path becomes easier to follow. With role models and a wider range of aspirations, under-represented groups can make informed decisions about their education and career.
It should be noted that while many of our STEM Ambassadors have a wealth of industry experience, young people need to see role models at all stages of their education and career path. You can be a role model for school-age students even before you’ve started your career. There is a huge benefit where role models are closer in age or career stage to the students, as well as those who are at the top of their career and every stage in between!
I started volunteering as a STEM Ambassador during my engineering undergraduate studies. Alongside a team of volunteers, I supported local school children to learn coding skills. Schools told us that their pupils appreciated the opportunity to work with and learn from University students, in positions where teenagers can imagine themselves within a few years. Our volunteer group focussed on working with female teenagers and while most of our volunteer group was made up of female university students, it also included male volunteers.
It isn’t just the case that we need members of minority groups to be role models for others in that group. We also need under-represented groups visible to all students so these stereotypes can be busted for all. For example, it benefits students of all genders to meet women who work in stereotypically male-dominated fields. It will bust stereotypes and any misconceptions that students may have about who can pursue that role, regardless of whether they are the same gender or not.
While girls might relate most to female role models, it’s also important for them to meet allies who can encourage them to pursue STEM careers. I would also hope that boys will aspire to be like the incredible female STEM Ambassadors they meet. This should also be taken into consideration for types of diversity other than gender.
With our wide pool of STEM Ambassador role models, we strive to break stereotypes and push for true inclusion across all STEM sectors. You too can help us inspire the next generation to follow a STEM career education and career pathway. 

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