Why Would You Want to Build a Community Garden?

Community gardens are becoming extremely popular, particularly in urban areas, where gardening space is rare and precious. While we do hear a lot about the positive effects of these gardens on health & well-being and local communities, but setting up a community garden can be difficult where personalities and priorities differ. This article describes how a local community is trying to overcome these obstacles. A good read and definitely good advice for our community garden in Grahame Park.

Greener Me

Community gardens are popping up everywhere – never in my life time has personal home gardening and community gardening been more popular.

Why would you want to start or build a community garden?

You would assume the answer is obvious but as a co-founder of a community gardening group in the inner city of Sydney, my experience knows everyone’s answer will differ.

This week I was asked if I would be interested in being part of building a community garden in my home town in the Wollondilly Shire.

I went along to the first garden planning gathering to meet the other interested people and with the goal of understanding what everyone’s reason was for starting the garden.

To assume everyone else will have the same goals, is one of the biggest reasons community gardens fail.

Our new home town community garden group, have agreed to write down their vision…

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Dirty Fun: A Community Spring Clean Event

Just before Easter I had the pleasure to organise a clean-up day on one of our most deprived housing and regeneration estates in Grahame Park and wow it event made it into the local press!

Julia Leszczak Spring Clean Article Grahame Park

Click picture for full article

Organising the event was a big pleasure as I managed to bring a range of partners of all sizes and backgrounds together to make this community day possible.

community, community event, community project, community engagement, volunteering, local communities, community garden

The local community of Grahame Park came out to make a difference

Barnet Homes staff, Genesis Housing Association, Lovell, the Living Way Ministries and the Stonegrove Estate Youth Project, Saracens, not to mention all the wonderful partners helping by just turning up on the day or promoting the event, including the local 50+ group and the local library.

The idea was not only to give the tired public spaces a makeover and make them look fresh and inviting again, but also for the local community to take ownership and pride of where they live.

The success of the event was overwhelming and in the end we had over 100 helpers, residents and stakeholders from the local community, including MP Andrew Dismore and councillor Nagus Narenthia, who sprang into action and got their hands dirty.

Activities on the day included:

Painting of Railings and Benches

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The Regeneration Housing team painting benches in front of the local library

Planting Hanging Baskets and the new Community Garden

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Volunteers from the local community planting the new community garden

Painting the scruffy looking Plant pots in front of the community centre

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Busy little girls are painting the plant pots in from of the community centre

Sweeping, Litter Picking and De-mossing

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Even MP Andrew Dismore and Councillor Nadus Narenthia joined the local commnuity and got their hands dirty on the day

Of course the event wouldn’t have been quite like me without a small fun element…

There was great music all the way and for all helpers there was a free lunch, sponsored by Barnet Homes and provided by one of our local partners. Our young helpers then had the pleasure to take part in our Easter egg hunt provided by SEYP & sponsored by Genesis HA.

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The Concourse is getting new hanging baskets

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The BBQ crew kept all volunteers nourished and entertained

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Younger helpers are preparing for the Easter egg hunt

Oh did I mention that all helpers got a pretty Spring Clean badge as ID and favour… OK I might be the only one excited about that, but it featured our fabulous event flyer

community, community event, community project, community engagement, volunteering, local communities, community garden

All helpers enjoyed themselves so much on the day and I was positively shocked that all of them came in different ages and from very diverse backgrounds.


Some might wonder, what the point of a community clean-up was if the estate was going to be regenerated anyway and I have tried to collect 5 points, that I hope might explain that such events are as important on Regeneration estates they are elsewhere:

  1. The target area is likely to exist for 2 or maybe even 3 more years. This is a long time and considering that people will still be using these spaces until then, a single day of doing a bit of freshening up does not seem unreasonable in comparison I believe. I mean, would you stop cleaning your kitchen, just because you might have one fitted within the next couple of months?
  2. In a recent survey residents identified scruffy looking public areas as one of their main concerns on the estate.
  3. Most helpers commented that it was great to come out and work in the fresh air and meet their neighbours.
  4. Many people enjoyed meeting their housing officers and got valuable advice on all sorts of troubles and this within an informal and relaxed setting.
  5. Meeting local stakeholders meant that most helpers got a better idea about activities and opportunities available on their estate. And while we do our best to promote all these opportunities via Twitter, newsletter, website and our resident magazine – nothing seems to beat face-to-face contact!

Here are some before-and-after pictures of the Grahame Park Concourse

community, community event, community project, community engagement, volunteering, local communities, community garden community, community event, community project, community engagement, volunteering, local communities, community garden railings before & after

Thriftmas of the Past and Happy New Year all!

It seems like an age and a half ago since Christmas, and as late as it comes I thought I take the opportunity to wish you all a happy new year – success, health and wealth!

bauble 2014

The latter was (remotely) the focus of the Christmas event which I had the pleasure to organise for one of our very deprived housing estates. It was called Thriftmas and aimed to address the negative  side effect which the festive season has to our finances every year.

In the previous nearly half of Britain had built up significant debt over Christmas, leaving every second Brit  starting the year struggling to pay off debts accumulated during the holiday season.

The idea of the Thriftmas event in Grahame Park December 2014 was to spread some Christmas spirit and help people realise that Christmas does not have to be expensive and that with a bit of creativity they can create unique seasonal items including cards, gifts and decoration. If you now are thinking of Little House in the Prairie and home made popcorn chains – then you’re definitely in the zone!

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Grahame Park is one of the most deprived in the UK. Most of the residents here are on low income. A recent survey has shown that 71% of people on low income pay off their Christmas debt for the whole year to come.

Grahame Park residents took the opportunity to make their Christmas cards, gifts and decoration, thanks to excellent partnership work everything was available for free!

Our residents learned how to make personalised gifts and decoration with things they might already have in the household. Gifts made of baubles and pens, decoration made of cornstarch dough and of course cards made of paper/card and pictures, stickers and other lovely things.

150 visitors of all backgrounds and religions enjoyed making festive items, and felt a real sense of accomplishment. One resident stated that she “did not think to be able to make something as beautiful as this card.” Another one felt really “proud” of her dough decoration which will get a “special place” on her family’s Christmas tree. Other enjoyed spending quality time with their children and help them learn important skills such as cutting and “drawing letters” on the baubles, as well as rolling out dough.

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My lovely colleagues of the Barnet Homes choir happily came from the other end of the borough to warm our hearts with tradition and modern carols on this really cold afternoon.

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Of course there was also face painting, popular as ever and the Christmas Puppet Show was of course one of the highlights and captivated parents and children alike, many of which had never seen a live puppet show before.

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A special visit from Santa Claus (volunteering by our lovely caretaker) put a smile on many children’s faces and his small gifts caused a lot of excitement.

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The library registered more new members in a day than they would usually within a week and they were happy to see so many new people, many of which were inspired to get books about craft and DIY.

maja and child

I am a true Christmas nutter and could have Christmas every day. However due to the big Black History Month event I did not have a s much time to plan this as I hoped.I hope for next year’s Thriftmas event to be better planned out and of course bigger! Do you have any ideas and tips on how to have a cheaper Christmas or on how to engage residents in fun budgeting activities? Id love to hear your ideas and am always interested in people who would like to join us for our events, whether it be with ideas, resources or helping out on the day.

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Happy new year everyone!

Pick ‘n’ Mix and Twitter Magic – The 4 cornerstones of Feminism 2.0

Annoyed by the word Feminism?

Recently the Word Feminism has been put on the Times Magazine’s List of Words to Ban. And while I of course understand all the outrage about it on social media, I also think that (on the bright site) if a high profile magazine is annoyed enough to put Feminism on its famous list, then is must mean that Feminism is alive and kicking!

Chances are that the people who put it there either still haven’t quite grasped the meaning or are uninformed enough to be turned off by all the solid cliché that surrounds the typical feminist aka hairy humourless man hating hippie who commits the offence of wearing no make-up and makes inflationary use of the words patriarchal and oppression.

Photo source: Craft.org (http://www.craft.org.au/news/funny-crafty-women/)

While this might be true for some, it is important to understand that there are at least as many sorts of feminists as there are in a pick ‘n’ mix. And while we agree on the most important truth of all – equal rights and opportunities for man and woman, we also disagree a lot!

pickn mix

Photo source – Flickr ( https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidlocke/)

New technologies have changed the playing field and there is a lot of discussion about where Feminism should be headed and what makes a good feminist.

For too long Feminism seems to have been niche and a sole female issue. I personally believe that in order to make Feminism sustainable and lessen its niche-status, it might take re-branding of some sort to make it more inclusive and attractive for the next generation of girls who are presented with entirely new challenges.

And things seem to be looking up. The Feminism Issue of the posh Magazine Elle in in the shops, and if you are remotely interested in the topic, I suggest you grab it! I do by far not go along with all their articles, but found it very informative and applaud them for putting Feminism between the cool magazines on the newsagent’s shelf!

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Feminism is certainly dusting off its old image and preparing to step into the 21st century and four new cornerstones seem to have been emerging in the process.

  1. Attraction: Fresh icons with entirely different approaches and personalities – no stereotypes in sight!

Of course there is Malala, a name powerful enough to remind us that everyone, no matter what age, gender or background can stand up for what is right and make a difference. The Nobel Peace Prize is well deserved!

After a felt lack of strong female role models (don’t we all miss the Spice Girls and Buffy) a few have recently volunteered to fill the gap. The loudest and most prominent of them probably being Beyoncé (I mean who run the world – right?) who co-founded Chime for Change and successfully campaigned for Ban Bossy but at the same time is frequently criticised for over-sexualisation and her believe that the financial independence is central to emancipation.

Then there is the bedazzling Angelina Jolie who has always been some sort of a human rights activist, but recently managed to take a problem which many found uncomfortable to discuss publicly and significantly raise awareness about Sexual Violence in Conflict, co-chairing the corresponding Global Summit in London this summer and becoming a Dame as reward for her efforts.

But of course there are a range of others and I particularly like the approach cutesy Zoey Deschanel who launched the website Hello Giggles for teenagers who also provide a lot of the content for the site. The focus is on providing a positive online environment for kids free from bullying or other kinds of abuse as an alternative to other social media platforms. Negative comments are being deleted immediately.

Presented are also positive role models such as the super confident and sharp minded Mindy Kaling, who refuses surrender to high gloss expectations about what a woman should look and behave like, and has become famous for hilarious quotes like ‘It’s so weird being my own role model.’ or ‘My body is very attracted to your body, but when you speak my brain gets angry.’

But everybody knows that there can’t be any successful movement without a pinch of magic.

magic

Photo source: Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/hryckowian/)

OK, yes – there can, but it would be less, well…magic and could you think of a better female kids role model is there than J.K. Rowling’s brainy and brave Hermione, who (hopefully) is equally admired by boys and girls? OK there are Pippi Longstockings and Lisa Simpson, but remember little muggle Hermione from the Harry Potter films?

hermione

Photo source: Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/23489340@N04/)

Well she has grown up and child star Emma Watson, is now not only a style icon and has a degree in English literature and is the new UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. She is a passionate women’s rights activist and played a key role in launching the He for She campaign which focuses on encouraging men to support gender equality and gave her famous feminist speech at the launch event in NY:

  1. Inclusion: Male support – Feminism for everybody!

Responsible for the appointment of Emma Watson for the UN’s He for She campaign is the current UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka who has recognised that ‘gender equality can only be achieved if men and boys take full responsibility, working side by side with women and girls, to redress the dynamics that hinder progress.’

Famous examples include Ryan Gosling, Patrick Steward, Dustin Hoffman and Jon Hamm;  For a more comprehensive list look here.

A very fashionable approach to make Feminism more inclusive was made recently with the Fawcett Society’s feminist T-Shirt campaign supported by celebrities and politicians (apart from our prime minister of course) which was brought into disrepute as rumours spread that these t-shirts had been made in sweatshops. The Fawcett Society could proof these allegations wrong but of course they were a suspiciously convenient deviation from the actual feminist message and nobody was really listening anymore… Coincidence? Well…

Watch video by Huffington Post about the controversial feminist T-shirts

  1. Globalisation: Viral protests – Supporting each others women’s rights battles across the world!

Global protest solidarity have become a frequent and powerful phenomenon. People all over the world joined the Japanese protest for freedom at the same time, in their own countries to show support and that the world is watching. I remember feeling this sense of solidarity when we joined hundreds of protesters in Dublin by congregating in front of the Irish embassy in London at the #repealthe8th protest calling for a change of Irish abortion legislation following the death of two women who could have been save by abortion but were denied the procedure. We saw similar protests across the rest of Europe, particularly in Spain.

me at repeal teh 8th protest

               Me at the London pro-choice protest

Of course the global element has been made so much more possible with the rise of social media.

  1. Social Media: The Art of Networking – #Hashtag Feminism and Power Boost

Networking Feminism is indeed a word listed in Wikipedia, and probably quite right so. Social media not only empowers women rights campaigners, as most of them are free to to use, they also make Feminism more accessible, particularly to the younger generation, the future of Feminism. Examples on how social media have power boosted the cause are endless, just look at the  case of the twisted “rape Guru” Julien Blanc (part of me still can’t believe he’s real) who has been refused entry to Australia, thanks to an online petition.  A similar petition is in progress for the UK, you can sign it here.

Ched Evans is another recent example. Social media flexed its muscle when the convicted rapist was released after serving part of his sentence and returned to training with his football club Sheffield United thinking there was some kind of expiry date on rape. Singer Paul Heaton, one the club’s patrons handed in his resignation instantly and protests on social media have been so loud that the football club still hasn’t dared signing him and one of the sponsors is threatening to pull out should the club take Evans on board, the other hinting they might be doing the same. He petition urging to refuse reinstating Evans is still in need of signatures. You can sign here.

The Evans case has also shown the downside of social media. It is unfiltered and leaves a lot of room for bullying, as experienced by sports heroine Jessica Ennis-Hill, who was subjected to a wave of abuse and rape threats on Twitter such as “Hope Ched Evans gets you you little slut.” when she publicly took a stance and demanded her name being taken removed from a stand at the Sheffield United should they offer Evans a new contract.

On a brighter note social media also opened up a completely new world, making us aware of the lady pen, thanks to YouTube which helps me keeping tabs on my favourite comedian in the world Ellen. Check her out promoting the lady pen here – I mean who would want to be without???

Oh did I mention that social media so very powerful, it even got TIME magazine to apologise for ever putting the word feminist on their ban word list and to (of course) remove it?

screenshot time mag apology

Well there you go, all well that ends well!

Black History Fun Day – Video & Press

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I know it is late, Black History Month seems long gone and we’re all thinking about Christmas already… but I thought I’d just share this lovely video and a couple of articles which covered out event on 30 October.

Here is the video by Rui of Nutmeg Community:

Why is important to celebrate Black History Month (FB link)

James Caven from the Times wrote an article with photo reel which can be found here:

Times – Grahame Park celebrates Black History Month

I must admit that first I was first upset about the following article. It names a contributing organisation which was not at all involved in the exhausting and long-winded organising process of the event as main organiser. But, inspite of being the actual main-coordiator of the event I have overcome my über-inflated ego and am sharing this otherwise great article with you – I do love the pictures in this – Enjoy!

Article Barnet and potters bar press

With Apple and Wurst against global homophobia

I just accidentally stumbled across this article on Facebook. It discusses homosexuality in the context of African and Asian cultures and of families in particular. It asks whether parents should be ashamed of their homosexual children or whether to put love above cultural expectations.

It is loaded with (cultural) sentiments comes to the conclusion that: “We might still be prejudiced about other people’s sexuality and would rather our children are straight but these are matters beyond human powers so it is best to embrace our children.”

One can probably argue whether the wording of the message is quite fortunate and goes far enough, but at least the article does send a positive message of tolerance and acceptance.

I must say however that – I was entirely shocked by the comments accompanying this article on Facebook. Most commentators are Africans, the talk is about sodomie and sin, with one comment stating “homosexuality has never been part of African culture and should therefore not be legalized” – Say what?

FB comments

I find the thought that so many well educated African people (many of which are living in European countries) join into Mugabe’s chant of homosexuality destroying “nations, apart from it becoming a filthy, filthy disease” deeply disturbing.

At the same time Nigeria decides to hand out long-term jail sentences to everyone who promotes gay legal rights and on the other end of the world Russia’s anti-gay  reach absurd heights as they respond to Apple CEO Tim Cook’s coming out removing the interactive iPhone statue built in honour of Steve Jobs in St. Petersburg –  Fearing it might promote homosexuality – Naturally!

_78722055_reutersstpetersburg BBC 

Well as they say –  ignorance is bliss and having been born and bred in the cultural bubble that I call Germany (for the record – not saying everything is perfect there),  I never knew… but homophobia is all around, and we have a loooooooooong way to go.

On the bright side however – Our beardy Eurovision song contest winner Conchita Wurst (Wurst = German for sausage, giving this post’s title a rather tasty note) beat Russia’s homophobic protests and is the reigning Eurovision No. 1, singing for the likes of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and Apple just having been named the world’s most valuable brand in the world (by Forbes) probably couldn’t care less whether St. Petersburg is adorned by a giant iPhone or not.

conchita

Pic from Conchita’s FB page album

And who would have thought that there would come a time when an African arc bishop (yes, OK I know it IS Desmond Tutu after all) and the pope would be miles ahead of the rest of the world (and sadly the catholic church for that matter) on gay rights?

Homophobia

Loved this post from August… it does give hope!

strangely peculiar

tumblr_mqlxfkfBSA1qg1y0vo1_400Found this on Tumblr:

“I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu said at the launch of the Free and Equal campaign in Cape Town.

“I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.”

Archbishop Tutu said the campaign against homophobia was similar to the campaign waged against racism in South Africa.

“I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level,” he added.

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A partnership working experiment and a sizzling party that is Black History Fun Day

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There seems to be a great debate about whether Black History Month is necessary and appropriate or too exclusive and politically über-correct.

I don’t care what people say, Black History Month can definitely be inclusive and I am for everything that involves dancing and cake! Meaning – we had an awesome Black History Fun Day in Barnet last week.

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It was my first proper real to plan and co-ordinate on my own and tried to keep it a group organising activity as much as I could including all local providers on board at all stages.

Of course there were a few hiccups on the way, but that was to be expected when a diverse range of local organisations, which usually see themselves as competitors come together to create something completely new for the local area.

But while I might have gained a few grey hairs in the process, I was seriously smitten by the passion and commitment which many organisations showed, willing to step in and save the day if necessary without expecting anything in return Rui of the youth organisation Nutmeg Community even surpised us with a video – which I am having trouble uploading at the moment, so will share later. I certainly think we have laid the foundations for a more unified community development and community engagement approach, as we all got to know and appreciate each other and pulled off an awesome event!

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Fire swallowing  Fanti Acrobats, an African fashion show by ACA, the amazing Pryme Kingz made the Black History Fun Day on the 30th October a one of its kind event on a one of its kind hot autumn day.

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The Community event took place in Grahame Park aiming to offer our local community an inclusive Black History Month celebration which would be fun and (although it was half-term) equally educational for people from all backgrounds.

Visitors were keen to take part in the Black History challenge created by myself on behalf of my employer Barnet Homes, which included word searches, quizzes and puzzles that needed to be completed with the help of our interactive Black history Exhibition. They enjoyed learning about unsung heroes of the past including the first black professional football player and war hero Walther Tull, land girl Amelia King and inspiring personalities of the present such as F1 racer Lewis Hamilton and enjoyed listening to Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger”. One resident found it “really interesting to learn about Black-British history as opposed to the usual focus on international personalities like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela”. Other participants found the challenge “fun”, “a great idea” and “incredibly educational”.

  Exhibition 2Exhibition 1 exhibition 3

Programme

While the celebration of historic and cultural contributions from personalities with BME background were the focal point of the event, there were of course a lot of fun activities to keep all visitors happy. The famous Rolling Base bus was a huge hit, as were the bouncy castle, face painting, ball games (both provided by Stonegrove Estates’ Youth Project) and craft activities (provided by Wingfield Childrens Centre).

The event was a huge success, and everyone could feel the a highly infectious level of community spirit, Our visitors left “buzzing” and thought that the historic accomplishments or the personalities presented on the day will inspire many people, no matter their background, to “go and do great things” (or so they said at least…).

We will plan a similar event for next year so please let me know if you have any ideas or you might even want to join us in the organising process? Would love to hear from you!

Standing together and proud – The Launch of the community focused charity Love Burnt Oak

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This almost registered charity based at Burnt Oak Station (Barnet) was officially launched on 11th October this year.

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Burnt Oak is one of the most deprived areas in the whole UK and has changed significantly in the last years. The shops, language and feel is very multicultural. In spite of being poor the Barnet ward has a few visible assets, including Parks and the first ever Tesco!

Love Burnt Oak’s aim is to bring together this diverse community, to give space and opportunities to meet and get to know each other. The project ma actively engages local stakeholders and encourages to combine resources and work in partnership in the mission to improve and create opportunities around employment, health & well-being for the local community.

There have been extensive needs assessments in the past, so I thought it a great idea to apply an asset based approach of community development at the event and asked visitors to join us celebrating Burnt Oak by sharing what they love about their local area.

The atmosphere at the launch event was buzzing with community spirit and people loved praising their local assets, being fully aware that within Barnet the area is mainly known for being poor.

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This positive activity has given me the courage to embrace asset-based community work and left me and the visitors smiling – not to mention the stunning visual effect of the tree standing proudly showing off Burnt Oak’s wide range of assets.

Do you think that shared resources are a reasonable approach for community work in deprived areas and in times of diminishing budgets?

LBO launch Oct 14

Females in STEM – Wrecking gender-bias and Page 3

Last week I had the honour to chair a discussion at the FiL conference at the Institute of Education in London. The panel discussion focussed on the lack of representation of females in STEM a-levels and STEM professions.

The speakers Ellie Cosgrave of ScienceGrrl, Clare Thomson of the Institute of Physics, Shelley Galvin of the WISE Campaign and Brenna Hassett of TrowelBlazers explored the subject from different angles.

Brenna explained how she and 3 fellow scientists aim to give female contributions in archaeology, palaeontology and geology the credit they deserve. Clare shared alarming statistics showing that females only account for 13% of the STEM workforce explaining that students from all female schools are more likely to go on to study STEM subjects than girls from mixed schools. Ellie told us how one of her teachers had a big impact on her career choice encouraging her to study science, but also shared her personal experience of gender related and even sexual abuse at work.  Shelley on the other hand shared her predominately positive experience of working as a female in the male dominated engineering field and underlined that positive role models have a big impact on subject and career decisions.

It materialised that apart from role models gender identity and perceptions among teenagers of both genders have a big impact. This does include gender bias and gender branding which we all have experienced in one way or another. There was also the worry that STEM subjects are often taught by teachers, who are not actually specialised on the subject and therefore not passionate about it.

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A lively discussion followed and we were all surprised that there currently are no numbers showing us, how many young women might opt out of studying STEM due to discrimination or bullying.

I also noticed that although I believe I might have been the only female in the room  with a BME background, the audience was very diverse.

The discussion clearly showed not only how different we are but also uncovered a wide range of coping mechanisms which we all have developed growing up. These would probably depend on personality, experience and the particular situation.

Some people would report discrimination in the workplace straight away; others rather ignore it as it could have a negative impact on their career and atmosphere at work. Some women are deeply upset witnessing their male colleagues staring at Page 3 during their tea break on the building side, others answer this insensitivity by bringing in a magazine full of half-naked men to work the next day, reading it with ostentation – which as we heard worked a treat.

There is of course no right or wrong, and in an ideal world we would not need copying mechanisms for discriminatory situations at all, for they wouldn’t exist.

The discussion however not only gave the audience handy tips but also established clear recommendations as to how to proceed and what needs to be done to entice females into studying STEM subjects:

  • Schools should not take a lack of uptake of STEM subjects by females as a natural situation and instead look into why their female students find STEM subjects less attractive and address the issue within their school
  • Parents should be aware of gender “branding” and ensure that their child’s/teenager’s environment is as versatile as possible and encouraging STEM related interests and hobbies
  • Teachers can look at the Wise campaign for help. Campaign posters showing positive examples of females in STEM professions are also available to challenge conscious and unconscious gender bias
  • Companies should establish more effective campaigns and procedures to make reporting of gender-related discrimination less difficult and uncomfortable
  • The government should encourage shared parental leave more progressively to avoid recruitment discrimination against young women
  • We should identify and challenge gender-bias whenever we encounter them