Inspiring the next generation into science and technology

Next month companies all over Sweden will open their doors to young girls aged 12-19 years old as part of the initiative ‘Introduce a Girl to Engineering day’ (IGE Day). The objective: To inspire young girls to enter into the fields of science, engineering and technology.

The Swedish Central Statistics agency (SCB) predicts that by 2030 there will be a shortage of approximately thirty to fifty thousand technicians and engineers within the Swedish workforce.

We see this at Saab as a future challenge to recruit in this area both in Sweden, and internationally. Statistics also show that male dominance in this education group is large. Part of the solution is encouraging young female talent into the science, technology and engineering disciplines.

We sat down with Saab’s Gunilla Fransson, Senior Vice President and Head of Saab’s Business Area Security and Defence Solutions to discuss how we can encourage more women into these fields based on her own personal experience.

 

What is your educational background?

“I have a Master’s of Science in Chemical Engineering and a Licentiate degree in Nuclear Science from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden".

What attracted you to the science field in the first instance?

  “Maths and Science were subjects that I felt I had a knack for as child, for me, these subjects were always easier.  I think children are more honest about their interests; they spend more time with what they like, rather than thinking about careers or further education. For me, I’ve always been a logical thinker, I liked solving problems,” says Gunilla.

For Gunilla, as a young girl, it was a similar style program to IGE Day, that first sparked her initial interest in chemistry.

“My first experience of science would probably have been when I was awarded the Berzeliestipendium  (Berzelies scholarship) in high school”. 

The Berzeliestipendium (now known as Berzeliusdagarna) is still in operation today. As a Berzeli scholar you are sponsored to attend a two-day conference in Stockholm with a focus on chemistry organised by the Swedish Chemical Society. In operation since 1956, the aim is to provide Swedish high school students with an insight into what it means to study chemistry in college and help them understand what life is like working as a chemist.

Why do we need more women in science and technology?

 “A mixture of men and women is important for creativity and problem solving. As disciplines, it’s important for their evolution”.

Why do we need more gender diversity at Saab?

 “Saab is a company where innovation and pioneering technology is in our blood. Diversity is central to this. For us it is very important that our employees have many different backgrounds to enable this to happen, and build on this foundation. It is important that the number of women in the company grows to over 30 per cent, only then, women are not a minority. Research has shown that 30 per cent is the limit for when a minority becomes a part of the group. If the proportion becomes less than 15 per cent it is found that those in the minority find it difficult to participate equally in decision-making”.

Why do you think we see a greater proportion of men going into technical fields than women?

 “Old habits seem to prevail and govern us even today. For the most case, I think many people don’t understand what technical education entails or what it could be like.Social norms and ideas also have a role to play. Today there is still a perception that technology is a male field, and I think subconsciously this can steer our choices”.

What do you think needs to be done to encourage more girls into the technical field?

“You have to decide that it is important, set goals and work towards them, only then can you create change. Initiatives like IGE Day can also play a role in spreading the awareness and growing the interest within these fields, by education, first-hand experience and by learning from those who have gone before you. I know it worked for me”. 

IGE day will take place the 26 March and Saab will welcome more than 140 girls to company locations across the country. Find out more here: http://www.igeday.com/