Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are absolutely important for the growth of any nation as jobs of the future will require a basic understanding of STEM, but women are still largely underrepresented.
In Nigeria, the case is not different and there are various factors but it predominantly because certain jobs are still gendered. Gender socialisation leads to gendered job segregation especially with STEM jobs that have, historically, been, assigned to males.
In this interview with TheCable, Ibilola Amao, principal consultant of Lonadek, an engineering and IT solution organisation, talks about genderisation of STEM jobs and the importance of including women in the areas that lead to innovation and competitiveness.
Amao is also an alumni of Manchester Business School and has a Ph.D in Computer-Aided-Design and draughting from Bradford University, UK. She also has a first class honours degee in Civil and Structural Engineering from Queen Mary College, University of London.
TheCable: STEM is still not a path many women cross, as a woman charting this path, why are there so few women in this industry?
Ibilola Amao: Girls do not make STEM courses a first choice because of mothers thinking that STEM is for their boys, or poor teacher style or experience or a lack of proper career counselling. If we can teach maths and science in very interesting ways, more ladies would come out tops in STEM.
Science can be likened to cookery. Instead of using a cooker, you use a Bunsen burner. Beakers are the equivalent of pots. The chemical reaction with tomatoes, salt, pepper and proteins is similar to processing other natural resources. STEM is fun depending on how it is taught and interpreted.
A lot of women have been bullied out of this space because we have some very archaic and sadistic men who would like to prove that a woman is not good enough. If you are able to stand your ground with any of these, word gets around that you cannot be messed with.
We also need extremely good family support. The first endorsement of STEM being a great idea usually comes from a progressive father or mother. This emboldens the girl child to take a leap of faith with confidence outside the home.
TheCable: What are the challenges women in STEM encounter?
Ibilola Amao: In most mixed schools, some STEM teachers are biased towards giving more serious attention to the boys so the discrimination rubs off badly on the psyche of the girls. We need to engage girls more cerebrally, teach STEM in more exciting, relevant and applied ways.
TheCable: Do you think stereotypes play a part in women staying away from STEM?
Ibilola Amao: Yes. The long rough hours in many male dominated professions put ladies off. If you are a very feminine lady (with societal’s standards of femininity), without a passion for STEM, it would be very difficult to embark on a career in a male dominated sector.
TheCable: Does society play a role in preventing women from taking up careers in STEM?
Ibilola Amao: Yes. In some cases facilities are not adequately provided for women in male dominated industries. Culturally in some areas, women are not accepted as equal to men so there is a bias.
There are some roles and jobs that are traditionally considered as masculine. To get rid of this stigma is hard work. Welding or driving trailers is one example. Being on the board of a traditionally male dominated company is another. Some senior engineers have a problem taking instructions from a female superior. They just cannot believe a lady knows what she is talking about, which is rather sad. We have to work twice as hard as our male counterparts to prove ourselves as competent in most cases.
TheCable: Do you think women are marginalised in STEM careers?
Ibilola Amao: Very much. Many STEM careers are not designed to accommodate pregnant ladies, mothers with little children or women who need to take time off work to attend to crucial domestics. In most cases, they are not scheduled on serious projects and for meetings when pregnant. When you are away for maternity, you are more likely to be removed from lists because they do not want to take a risk if you are unable to perform at peak when you return to work after your maternity leave. With good family support and an understanding superior these are non-issues.
TheCable: How do you think women can play a significant role in STEM, how can they sit on the table?
If women excel in what they do, they can win at any level. By bringing on board creative, innovative, diverse and value creating ideas based on a clear understanding of the value of diversity women become indispensable and well respected. A woman must always be on top of her game. A woman must attain expertise and mastery in her area of core competence and be respected for that over and above a pretty face, nice looks and transient padding that does not bring much to a negotiating table. We must match the boys and play to win at the Boardroom table even if we end up taking charge of the kitchen as soon as we arrive home.