With recent reports suggesting that numbers of young women embarking upon scientific careers are increasing, experienced scientist and General Manager of EPC-UK’s Bramble Island site Michelle Miller, shares her experience of being a minority professional within a scientific arena, together with her aspirations for a more gender balanced industry.
For the past two years, Michelle Miller has shown dedicated commitment to expanding the chemical activities of our Bramble Island operation in Essex. A qualified chemist and PhD graduate, she has furthered business function with a scientific focus, whilst continuing to develop our renowned reputation for motivating employees and creating an engaging and productive working culture.
She is a highly skilled, professional and capable woman; experienced in working within what has been seen historically as a male orientated industry. Encouraged by recent educational and sector initiatives designed to guide more women towards scientific careers, Michelle hopes that the industry’s longstanding gender imbalance is finally showing signs of change.
With efforts to inspire girls to study sciences at A-level reportedly coming to fruition – according to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) career events service stemwomen.co.uk – female students are now outnumbering males nationally for the first time.
Following last summer’s A-level results, figures released showed that there were 84,111 entries (50.3%) from girls to study biology, chemistry and physics, compared with 83,133 (49.7%) from males.
The report comes as welcome news to Michelle, who herself was encouraged by an enthusiastic teaching team to follow her own interest in science at A-level, back in the 1990s.
“I’ve always had an inquisitive mind,” she explains “and went to a school that valued STEM subjects for girls’ development just as much as boys. My teachers delivered engaging science lessons, which as an adult has led me to believe in the value of influencing all budding young scientists of any gender through the impression of strong role models. By ensuring women are included in that drive to influence, and with the availability of exciting work experience and apprenticeship opportunities, I feel that confidence can be instilled within young people and girls in particular can be encouraged to develop a sense of belonging within a scientific environment to balance the gender scale.”
Michelle went on to study chemistry at degree level at Salford University, where at the time gender imbalance between students and subsequent graduates was still evident.
“After graduating, I began my professional career within the male dominated construction industry,” she explains, “however, I made a conscious decision not to allow my gender to act as a limiting factor of my evident capabilities. I wouldn’t ask someone to do something that I wasn’t prepared to do myself, such as mixing concrete, and as a result, never felt belittled or criticised because from the beginning I demonstrated my ability to perform a complete and comprehensive role.
“I’d recommend the approach I took to any woman embarking on a scientific or engineering orientated career; however, I’ve also been fortunate enough to work for companies with strong ethical policies – including EPC-UK – that understand that by supporting women to achieve, business ultimately benefits.”
Michelle presents the view that businesses choosing to promote female enablement through training, opportunities, home life flexibility and encouragement of mental well being, create committed, contented employees whose capabilities help companies to thrive.
“For fundamental change to happen regarding diversity, leaders need to show the way. And, whilst currently, the industry’s issues surrounding the skills shortage still take centre stage, there’s abundant opportunity for our influx of new female graduates to demonstrate their skillsets in helping address and fill the gaps.
“Their abilities are and will continue to be much needed. Ten years ago, careers reached via the chemistry route were most often associated with front end processes and hazardous work, however with the call to increase renewable energy operations, create circular economies, reduce company carbon footprints and realistically rectify areas of environmental damage, there are many positive and exciting scientific areas to explore; presenting the sector as an attractive option for young, driven individuals.”
With her own children already showing interest in the prospect of a scientific future, Michelle believes schools still have that initial power to engage young people and spark passion for a STEM career at a young age, exactly as she experienced.
“An exciting educational introduction to STEM subjects, with opportunities to see science in action first-hand is an early and vital route to bridging the skills gap with home grown talent,” she adds. “Over the last five or six years I’ve noticed that STEM focussed schools have made concerted efforts to further expose all genders to scientific and engineering disciplines and deliver appropriate messages surrounding the environmental challenges we face and have the power to become involved in, even beginning at primary level.
“Education, business thinking, skill shortages and environmental necessity are all driving the demand for young people to make a difference and pursue rewarding careers capable of benefiting us all. And, as more girls step up to take those opportunities, I hope they trust in their own capabilities as I did at their age, ready to build on personal levels of confidence that will help them achieve their professional goals.”