“It is important to state that these equations are something with which pupils have difficulty, so designing a game that inspires and teaches them is crucial. Teach First provides the necessary knowledge for designing learning units and covering pupils’ needs according to the national curriculum. Our Thales graduates have been able to transmit coding knowledge. The group is also developing fourth-grade coding models that can be used in the GCSE computing subjects or in STEM clubs”.
Inclusion through creativity
The fact that computer games, the world’s largest entertainment industry, would not be able to exist without creative experts trained in science and technology may attract young people to STEM subjects. This was certainly a powerful draw for Shae Kirkpatrick, who in the past three years has been working as a software engineer for air traffic control management in Thales’ Australian central office in Melbourne.
“In university I first started to study a humanities degree”, explains Kirkpatrick, who comes from an artistic family and trained as a ballet dancer for 16 years as well as playing the flute and the piano. “But while there I did an animation course with some video game design students and thought it was much more interesting and creative than what I was doing, so I switched to an engineering degree and never looked back”.
Now Shae is trying to share her discovery with primary school pupils, encouraging them to consider science and technology studies. The cause is a worthwhile one. In Australia, the percentage of pupils who manages to successfully complete STEM subjects is falling at an alarming rate, from 22% a decade ago to 16% today. And what’s worse, only 14% of Australian workers with STEM qualifications are women. Kirkpatrick, for example, is the only female technical engineer in a team of 30 people.
Kirkpatrick’s projects consist of short programing tasks that simulate air traffic control management, created with a free internet tool called Scratch which teaches pupils to program in a simple and graphic way. It works by dragging and dropping blocks of instructions on the screen and putting them together like Lego pieces to create a program, game or animation. It does not focus on complex concepts but on problem-solving methods and on the creative aspects of programming.
“Transmitting the creative aspects of STEM is crucial, particularly if we take into account Thales’ background in this male-dominated technical field, says Kirkpatrick. “To say that it’s male-dominated is nothing more than admitting the reality”, she says. “It’s a question of going out there and creating awareness of what we’re actually doing: emphasizing how creative you have to be and how to work as a team and deal with customers. There is a whole creative and innovative side that should be able to awaken the interest of young women students”.
Of course there are incentives that pressure companies such as Thales into diversifying. European Union legislation dictates that by 2020 every EU-registered company has to have applied diversification quotas and at least 40% of its management board members will have to be women.
European legislation dictates that by 2020 every EU-registered company has to have applied diversification quotas and at least 40% of its management board members will have to be women
There is also convincing economic justification for diversifying the staff, argues Astrid Neuland, an Ottawa resident working in the economic development department of Thales Canada Defence and Security. She is acting executive vice president of Women In Defence and Security Canada (WiDS) and responsible for the organization’s affiliations and sponsorships. WiDS promotes the progress of women occupying senior positions in defence- and security-related professions in Canada. Neuland was nominated in Canada’s Esprit de Corps military magazine for the 2017 list of the top 20 women in defence-related senior positions.
“Given that our customers are increasingly diverse, we also have to be diverse”, says Neuland. “The female General with the highest ranking in the Commonwealth is Canadian: Lieutenant-General Christine Whitecross. “If there is more diversity present in terms of gender, culture, origin, education and rank, it makes sense for us to be more diverse also. We have to mirror our customers”.