Browsing Tag


Inspirational women

UN Celebrates Girls And Women In Science

11 February, 2016

Only 15% of engineering degree applicants in the UK are girls and 9% of the UK engineering workforce are female. That’s right, it’s in the single digits!

Having carried out physics and engineering degrees in the UK, this statistic pains me. Relatedly, physics is the 3rd most popular A-level for boys but only the 19th for girls. Half of all state schools in the UK don’t have any girls studying physics A-levels at all. With a similar trend seen globally obviously something needs to change.

The United Nations (UN) has declared 11th February the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, celebrating their scientific achievements and taking place for the first time this year. So it’s apt today to look at how we can encourage girls to study science, including physics, ensuring that they have access to STEM jobs in the future.

Although girls are more likely to want to work on something meaningful they are reluctant to translate that desire to science

Although girls are more likely to want to work on something meaningful they are reluctant to translate that desire to science

The Impact of Technology

When speaking to young girls, one thing that has always helped me to portray the wonder of science, is rather than always thinking about the technology itself, think about the impact that technology will make on people. Humanize the technology itself. Take satellite technology for example: initiatives are now being undertaken to provide affordable internet access worldwide through a constellation of microsatellites, a project with the potential to have an unprecedented impact on those around the world without access to basic communication. Rural communities will have high-speed internet access where once there was none, providing education and knowledge to those currently without. The impact of the project is from where, I believe, you can inspire an increasing number of girls to study science.

Rather than thinking about the technology itself, think about the impact that technology will make on people. Humanize the technology itself.

NASA Astronaut Karen Nyberg in the cupola module on the International Space Station (ISS). She has a degree in mechanical engineering and her studies centered on human thermoregulation and experimental metabolic testing and control, and focusing on the control of thermal neutrality in space suits.

NASA Astronaut Karen Nyberg in the cupola module on the International Space Station (ISS). She has a degree in mechanical engineering and her studies centered on human thermoregulation and experimental metabolic testing and control, and focusing on the control of thermal neutrality in space suits. [Image copyright: NASA]

Find Role Models

Allowing girls access to women in STEM is key. As the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, said, “If you can’t see, you can’t be.” With movies and media portraying mainly male scientists, meeting one female scientist can change the life of a young girl as many don’t realize that a career in STEM is an option. Their future options can be influenced by a decision they make at a very young age. Positive female role models are essential to provide women with examples to look up to when they’re making the most critical decisions in their educations or career. Girls can be inspired by independent, fearless, female main characters in books or on TV as well as in real life. Knowing that there is somebody that looks like them and is a scientist can be pivotal in their educational journey.

Take a look at the Inspirational Women section of Rocket Women to read interviews with accomplished women in the space industry.

Six-Year-Old Abigail Enthralled By Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield's Sokol spacesuit

Six-Year-Old Abigail Enthralled By Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield’s Sokol spacesuit [Copyright:]

Encourage Girls When Young

To encourage more women into engineering you need to inspire them when they’re young. Girls at the age of 11 decide to leave STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths), when they’re in an education system where the choice of subjects at school severely limits their options for working in other fields later. Girls need to be allowed to be creative and inquisitive from a young age, rather than being told to play with toys that are seen by many as more appropriate for young girls is key. At 8, I was learning to programme the VCR and encouraged to read voraciously about science. The key is to initially spark an interest in STEM and then to allow that to grow over years, overcoming gender bias, especially in the early years and secondary school. There are an increasing number of companies helping parents to encourage girls when younger and avoid toys that are infused with gender stereotypes, including Goldieblox which allows girls to build and become engineers and Lottie Dolls who recently launched a Stargazing Lottie doll, designed by a six-year-old girl called Abigail, to the International Space Station (ISS).

Girls need to know that it’s fine to be nerdy

Changing The Stereotype

The typical stereotype of a physicist or engineer is usually male and nerdy, which needs to change. Many men and women that work in STEM don’t consider themselves a stereotypical ‘nerd’. Girls also need to know that it’s fine to be nerdy, or simply smart, in fact as an increasing number of jobs incorporate at least a moderate level of technical skills, it’s going to be necessary for girls to learn to code and feel comfortable in a technical environment in order to succeed and thrive in any chosen career. According to US CTO Megan Smith, tech jobs pay 50% more than the average American salary.

96% of the world’s software engineers are men. The average salary for a software engineer in the US was close to $100,000, one of the top paying jobs in the country, with a similar trend worldwide.

On this inaugral International Day of Women and Girls in Science, lets share this advice with young girls around the world to help them reach their potential in the future.


Goldieblox Aims To Disrupt Perfect Beauty Standards

6 November, 2014

If you’re wondering what to buy your 9 year old niece for Christmas this year, then look no further.

Goldieblox, the company founded by Stanford engineer Debra Stirling, has added to their mission to ‘disrupt the pink aisle’ by releasing a new doll and campaign against ‘Big Sister’. Their previous ad campaign earned them an ad slot during the 2013 Super Bowl.

In their new ad, girls dressed in strappy heels and pink dresses, line up to take pretty, skinny Barbie-esque dolls from a conveyor belt, with ‘Big Sister’ on screens conveying in an Orwellian overtone, “You are beauty, and beauty is perfection.”

One girl in the line-up however, doesn’t conform to pick up a doll from the conveyor belt, but destroys the screen using a hammer and alters the machine to create Goldie, a doll with blonde curly hair, red ‘Chucks’ and a hammer. The ad with the tagline, “Other dolls are built for fashion, Goldie is built for action”, should help to promote brains over beauty, essential at a time when girls decide by the age of 11 to move away from science. Something that Disney’s Frozen Elsa doll and Barbie are lacking. A recent study also suggested that playing with Barbies has an effect on young girls’ ideas on their place in the world and limits their sense of what’s possible in the future.

Goldie Doll Figurine Comes Complete with a Hammer, Red Chucks and 45-foot zipline! [Goldieblox]

If I personally had to name the biggest obstacle that I had to face during deciding on a career path it would be overcoming preconceived ideals. I’d always known that I wanted to work in the space industry, however it wasn’t a career path that was expected for a girl, especially at an all-girls school. I had to prove to others around me and to myself that it was possible. If the Goldie doll helps to mould attitudes at a young age and encourages girls to study STEM, opening up the possibilities of a science or engineering-based career, I think it’ll make a difference in the career decisions young girls eventually make. It’s a fantastic gift idea with the doll being released just in time for Christmas!

Here’s my older post on Goldieblox’s previous ad and the importance of ‘Being Inspired Young’.

How To Be A Rocket Woman

How To Be A Rocket Woman: Being Inspired Young

20 November, 2013

“Girls To Build A Spaceship, Girls To Code A New App, Girls To Grow Up Knowing They Can Engineer That”

Lyrics from the fantastic new commercial by GoldieBlox, a company founded by Debra Stirling (Stanford graduate with a degree in Mechanical Engineering/Product Design), championing to “disrupt the pink aisle” with a toy that  introduces girls to the joy of engineering at a young age.

GoldieBlox’s vision for this video was to “showcase the amazing inventive power that girls have”. They re-wrote the lyrics to the Beastie Boys’ Girls and hired six engineers, Brett Doar (of OK Go! fame)  and three fantastic young girls to transform a  house into a “princess machine.” It’s such a refreshing take on commercials for girls’ toys and made me smile all the way through (and it’s catchy!).

The First GoldieBlox Toy On Shelves – Goldieblox and the Spinning Machine [Amazon]

When first hearing about GoldieBlox last year I was pleasantly surprised that rather than developing something stereotypical, a pink lego sort of product per se,  it really seemed to have a solid basis. Debra Stirling has certainly done her research concerning gender differences, child education and how children learn and interact. Stirling built GoldieBlox using the notion that boys were more interested in building while girls generally prefered reading and other verbal skills. Therefore having a book incorporated into GoldieBlox helped the girls to stay focussed on that whilst carrying the out the activity alongside it. She stated last year that the boys playing with GoldieBlox liked to spin the dog as fast as possible until it fell off after completing the build, whilst the girls spun it gently using the ribbon. The success of GoldieBlox will hopefully continue to grow, with the new commercial a finalist to be aired at Superbowl (vote for it here!).

Roominate developed by Maykah allows young girls to build a dollhouse room complete with working circuits [VentureBeat]

Maykah, a company formed by a group of three Stanford grad students is also aiming to inspire the next generation of female technology innovators. Their first toy Roominate inspired by an early dollhouse memory,  allows young girls to attach and custom-build a miniature room with working circuits to their dollhouse.

Influencing girls at a young age with toys like this, encouraging girls to build and engineer, really is the key to inspiring them and setting them on a course to consider STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) at a later stage. LEGO, once described by Jezebel as simply making money through “girls conditioned to want pink and sparkly toys about ponies and princesses” rather than trying to change the status quo, has also released a new female scientist minifigure with a further set of female STEM career minifigures planned to come.


LEGO Scientist Minifigure [LEGO]

At a young age, I, although given Barbies to play with as a child, much preferred putting together train sets or toy car race tracks and playing with space shuttles, toys mainly targeted at boys with their product marketing and places in the toyshop aisle. I feel that being encouraged to play with these toys rather than shunned, played a large part in allowing me to start to understand physics and become inquisitive about how the world around me worked, especially when I was young before it feeling like simply school work (which it never was..). That wonder about the universe and how it was formed led me to where I am today working as Engineer with an background in astrophysics and space engineering. If toys like GoldieBlox had been around when I was younger, how many more girls would’ve decided to follow their true path towards learning about engineering and physics, rather than simply fitting in by playing with Barbies?

With girls deciding by the age of 11 to move away from studying science, toys like these are important to bring STEM  into their lives in an enjoyable way when they’re young and to prevent stereotypes from forming in the first place.

Personally I hope that these toys sell out at Christmas!