Royal Hospital School Head of Physics Kerrie Finlay says we need more female STEM teachers and role models to inspire girls and young women to pursue science careers

Recently, there was an article by the BBC on how physics is seen as a male-dominated industry. As a female teacher working in STEM, it is shocking to think that in today’s world there is still such a gender divide in our schools and in the profession itself.

I am sure many will think back to their time in science lessons, and most will recall that their teachers were male. In my personal experience, my physics teacher was a man, and my BSc and MA lecturers were men too. Thankfully, I am proud to say that this is not the case in my current role as Head of Physics at Royal Hospital School – where 50% of the subjects are led by women.

However, the BBC article certainly highlights the lack of female representation in science and will make many women reflect on what it truly means to be a female working in STEM. For me, it is important to use my role to face this lack of representation and push the next generation to see science as genderless.

Royal Hospital School on women in STEM
Students need to see science as genderless, says Royal Hospital School’s Kerrie Finlay – at RHS 50% of STEM staff are female

For those schools looking to increase this figure, it is imperative to have a top-down approach to gender-stereotyped subjects, with strong female teachers promoting the message that STEM subjects are for everyone regardless of gender. It is also important for male teachers to be champions of women in science to create a unified and inclusive message.

There is also a huge absence of women scientists within the national curriculum and this is something that can be changed. We want to see Curie, Meitner, Johnson, Burnell and Somerville named to ensure some gender balance, and this is something as teachers we can start proactively mentioning within the classroom so that our students know of those women and their achievements.

It is also important to face these topics head on with the next generation of talent and debate the implications of the number of women going into science and other STEM subjects.

It is imperative to have a top-down approach, with strong female teachers promoting the message that STEM subjects are for everyone”

The overwhelming majority of Year 11 physics pupils at Royal Hospital School feel that the BBC article was a true reflection of their perception of the subject – and that’s despite having female physics teachers standing in front of them. Some pupils said they had found a love for the subject and wanted to continue the subject at A level, hoping to be part of the change. Others spoke openly about how they felt they would be perceived as ‘different’ if they chose to study physics and maths further, which was why they had decided to go with other subjects for A level.

The debates we have in the classroom are incredibly important, as the sector has notably faced challenges in the uptake of women in STEM subjects. By understanding the viewpoints of pupils and responding with positive examples, we can open their eyes to how they can help change that stereotype. This, in turn, will help create the next generation of talent in science.

If STEM teachers can become unified and work to counteract the messages from wider society by raising awareness of female scientists with students – also creating more positive role models for girls to aspire to in the future – then surely we stand a good chance of changing these shocking statistics.

Royal Hospital School

Further reading: Hurst College on why STEM needs saving