Jackie Cook founder of Equality in STEM
Tell us about your work on Equality In STEM…
I set up the Equality in STEM network in March 2021 to support, inspire, develop and encourage women in STEM and to create conversation in the region around the wider topic of diversity. Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths are very male dominated and we are trying to help shift that balance and promote the opportunities that are out there.
What are your goals as part of the network?
We want to shift the image and help showcase some of the terrific women already working in STEM locally.
There’s still a perception, amongst those not in the industry, that South Yorkshire is stuck in The Full Monty days of steelworks shutting down, doom and gloom and a questionable future, but most of the engineering clients I work with are actually struggling to get skilled, experienced people. The jobs are there, so we need to let talented people – and teachers, parents, people of all ages who might even have left the industry – know that the door is wide open!
How did you get started working on the Equality In STEM network?
I’ve spent 17 years working in engineering and manufacturing. Even now, I’m often the only female in the room and even though I’ve got to know a lot of other women working throughout the sector, the general consensus is that we really need to see more women in these roles.
I started out my career in office junior and secretarial roles, eventually moving into marketing. My career progression led me to DavyMarkham, a heavy engineering company that traded for well over 180 years. It was a scary change to make, but I really enjoyed learning about the engineering industry and being part of such an innovative environment. Fast forward to today and I run my own marketing company,
CQ Strategic Marketing, where I specialise in working with SMEs in the STEM sectors that don’t have an in-house team.
What do you love about working on the Equality In STEM network?
It’s very much a passion project! I love being able to support others, especially those in the earlier stages of their journey. We run career development workshops to help people think about where they are going with their careers and how they can get there, which is really rewarding.
I also just love being able to shout about the wonderful people that I have met as part of the network, and a very enjoyable aspect is promoting our members as role models to raise aspirations and remove the perceived barriers to women who could thrive in STEM.
Moving forward, we want to do the same thing for the businesses that we work with too. We have seen a lot of support from companies that have driven diversity and seen the benefit in making changes to their culture. I want to promote the success stories, the women that have succeeded and the businesses that have benefitted from having those women on board. I’m a big believer in inspiration as a drive to change.
What challenges have you faced in your career and how have you overcome them?
It’s not always pretty. I’ve been bullied. I’ve been harassed. Being the only female in a male dominated environment has had its tough moments.
I don’t want others to have to go through that at all, but I also know that having support from others that understood that feeling – not just the actual unacceptable behaviours but the feeling of imposter syndrome that can come with feeling like an outsider. Is this normal? How do I handle it? Is it my fault? I’m lucky to have had people around me that I felt I could talk to.
HR teams are a lot better at supporting employees and thankfully there is a lot less of the overt sexism now. But it can still be a daunting task to try and make your voice heard and that support is something that I have valued myself and want others to find when they join us.
Has equality improved, in STEM and in general?
Absolutely. Awareness around equality and diversity is generally something that businesses and business owners take into account and things like flexible working patterns don’t just allow women to work around family life, it also allows their partners to contribute more at home without the same level of disruption. Things like shared paternity leave really are a huge step forward and are being utilised more and more.
We are on a journey though, and we aren’t there yet. While there are a lot more women working in STEM sectors, we are definitely under-represented in the technical roles.
In my experience, businesses recognise this. There can be more that SMEs can do to try and attract more women and the Equality In STEM network is actively helping them to find ways to do that too. But right from careers advice in schools we want women to feel more welcomed into the industries and to know that they can be incredibly successful if they choose to do so!
Jackie has been involved with The Work-wise Foundation to promote STEM careers in schools for eight years. She was on their Get up to Speed with STEM organising committee for four years and has provided many work experience placement opportunities.
The Equality in STEM network also provided speakers for their Women into STEM and BAME into STEM Summer Academies in August and Jackie took part in a recent career speed networking event at Brinsworth Academy.
Check the Equality In STEM pages in unLTD each month for more on this topic – and visit equalityinstem.org.uk for more information about working with Equality In STEM in South Yorkshire or joining as a member.