On Tuesday 11 October, Engine Shed and SETsquared Bristol were delighted to host our fifth annual ‘Ada Lovelace: Inspiring girls and women in STEM’ panel, in celebration of Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace, a 19th century mathematician, is widely credited as the first computer programmer, and best known for her work with Charles Babbage to develop the ‘Analytical Engine’ computer.
Chaired by Lisa Matthews (Head of Operations, KETS Quantum Security), the panel comprised of Joyann Boyce (Founder, Inclued AI), Caroline Clark (Co-founder, Zebera), Dr Lia Li (CEO, Zero Point Motion) and Josephine Dorh (Co-founder & CTO, Fluoretiq). We’ve pulled out some of the key points and themes here, and you can find the full recording below.
Emilie Harryman, Partnerships Manager at Engine Shed, said: “It was such an inspiring event and a huge thanks to our panellists for sharing their stories so candidly. The diversity of the routes these women have taken into STEM demonstrates that there is no one size fits all, a message I believe is really important to share both with young people who are currently studying and with those who are working and considering a career change. We’re excited to have captured a recording of the event which can be used as a resource for anyone interested in a career in STEM, to showcase the breadth of applications from these subjects.”
No ‘right way’ to get into tech
Lisa asked the panellists to start by explaining their routes into tech, pointing out that “it’s not common that this is a straight path”. We learned that each of the panellists had taken a very different route working across academia and industry, with experience in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, psychology, recruitment, sports therapy, physics and marketing. Joyann summed this up nicely by pointing out that “Whatever you’re interested in now, there’s a way to make that tech”, and gave the example of someone who was 3D-printing organs in space!
This led to a discussion about skills which are essential for those working in tech. Josephine talked about the need for patience and resilience, as when you are “developing a device, you are testing and testing all over again […] and sometimes finishing an experiment and not understanding why it didn’t work”. Other skills which were identified included problem-solving, creativity, teamwork, honesty, integrity, and good communication.
Overcoming the fear of failure
Lia highlighted the importance of communicating when you’ve made a mistake and overcoming your fear of failure, which several other panellists picked up on and traced back to their school days. Joyann explained that “you get taught in school you’re supposed to always have the answer. Un-learning that and being comfortable saying ‘I don’t know’ is difficult””. Caroline reiterated this, saying “it’s ok to try a thing if you don’t know how to do it, and if you get it wrong you’ll learn for next time.”
Challenges of being women in STEM
When asked about the challenges of being a woman in STEM, Lia explained that there are still “stereotypes around the way that women are framed to not have an interest or not have the mind for something that’s technology-focussed or maths-orientated” and addressed studies which revealed reduced employment opportunities and funding for woman and minority ethnic people. However, she pointed out that those in the room are or will become decisionmakers who can tackle these challenges, by discussing them openly and having a support system or community around you so you can share experiences and give it the attention it needs.
Areas to get excited about
Finally, the panellists were asked which developing areas of STEM kids should get excited about. The answers all focussed on how developing tech can simplify and improve our lives:
Joyann – “AI – only 20% of UK AI professionals are women”
Josephine – “Automation”
Lia – “UK semiconductor chip designing”
Caroline – “Quantum computing and tech for good”
Our Ada Lovelace Day panel is just one of the initiatives which are part of Engine Shed’s longstanding Diverse Workforce for the Future project, working with partners to help raise awareness of opportunities for young people and engage them with the workplace.