Exclusive Interview: Stephanie Hill – Gender Equality Advocate In STEM
A passionate advocate for female representation in STEM and formerly named Miss United Kingdom, Stephanie Hill is an inspiring role model to young teenagers across the country. With a degree in Radiography and Oncology, as well as a Master’s in Translational Oncology, Stephanie is passionate about how we can bring more gender equality to the world of science.
In this exclusive video with Stephanie, she explains what gender inclusion means to her, as well as her personal contributions to the fight against Covid-19.
Q: What do gender inclusion & equality mean to you?
“To me, it’s such a huge topic now. And that phrase itself irritates me. It should have been from the dawn of time. There is no reason for there not to be inclusion and equality to be. And so, to me, it does not make any sense as to why there should be any discrimination based on gender, based on your sex.
“It shouldn’t be something that we have to campaign for. It should just be expected. It is not something that we should have to work so relentlessly hard for.
“So, to me, it should just be standard. And so, it is very important to me that we have that representation. We need representation of all genders, because otherwise how can we create a world that is safe and fair?
“And I think now, the best way to tackle it is just to demand it, rather than saying ‘look, we’ve done all of this to prove why we deserve this, we’ll prove why we should have a seat at this table’. We should just expect it now because there’s absolutely no reason for this discrimination to be happening in the first place.”
Q: What message do you have for young women wanting to pursue a career in STEM?
“Oh, I love this question. I have had an amazing opportunity to work with young adults over the past year. And I have had the chance to talk to them and see how they feel about school, see how they feel about the education systems and how they feel about academia. And I’m astonished, but also very disappointed to hear that they felt the same way that I did; that they felt that they were being put in boxes, that they were being asked to define themselves when they have not had enough time to live on this planet and figure out what they want to do.
“My biggest message to young women is that you spend most of your life working; don’t feel pressured to get into something at eighteen and excel at it if you want to change it. Twenty-five, fine. If you want to change it, thirty, forty, fifty, it doesn’t matter. You’re spending such a long time of your life working because unfortunately that society that we live in, we have to work to live.
“Try and make it somewhat enjoyable or something that you’re remotely interested in. And then it becomes a lot easier. And I think for me, the story that I’m trying to tell a lot more often now is the fact that I absolutely obliterated my A-levels and GCSEs. I pretty much failed all my university exams once or twice, and I managed to scrape through.
“I think for me, it’s just having that resilience, just knowing that if you really do want a career in this, there are so many different routes. They’re not widely publicised, which is a big problem. Unfortunately, you guys have got to do the groundwork, get a computer, and find a way to get in. But there are routes. And because there’s a lovely attitude with women in STEM that if you want it hard enough and you’ve worked hard enough to get there, then they’ll find a place for you.
“You’re not defined by those letters on that piece of paper that you get when you’re 16, and you’re trying to figure out who on earth you are and what you want to do. They do not define you.
“I mean, nowadays, as with many jobs, work experience is far more important than letters on a piece of paper. And I’ve made a lot of my decisions based on the work experience that I had. So go out there, go and experiment because, in the end, you are giving a gift to the STEM industry.
“So, yeah, you’re not defined by letters on a piece of paper if you want to be in STEM- there are so many routes into it, you just might have to take a little bit longer than planned.”
Q: What more needs to be done to improve gender equality in STEM?
“I think a huge part of it now is it’s demanding change, rather than improving, and not demanding in a particularly aggressive way, but just, you know, setting that standard and saying there needs to be a proper representation of the workforce.
“I think in medical research and scientific research, the research team needs to be representative. We need to have people representing all ethnicities, from all genders, because if we’re making these products and potentially these drugs and treatments that are going to be helping the population, we need to make sure that everybody there has a seat at the table.
“So, again, kind of going in and just demanding expecting this as a norm, not kind of just fobbing off someone’s success almost as like a diversity hire. I absolutely hate that term because the population is diverse. So, it should be representative, and it’s poorly reflected on a company if they decide to only be representing one demographic in the laboratory.
“I mean, I can only kind of talk from the experience of the European field, but we know that certainly in Europe, only a third of the workforce in science is female, which we do know from various studies that if the workforce is evenly represented with the genders, that the health care outcomes are so much better.
“So, again, there’s no reason that there should be any kind of discrimination based on gender-based, not based on ethnicity or any kind of background, because the workforce must be diverse, it must be representative. Otherwise, we’re not going to be getting these clinical, technological, mathematical outcomes that are going to benefit the general population.
“We do need the non-binary community as well because there are so many people that are not identifying with either one of those genders and they need representation. So, we need health care outcomes, scientific outcomes, technological outcomes, engineering and mathematics that represent that population. We’ve got to represent everyone.
“If you go back to the meaning of life, the point is to thrive, literally. That’s how it all started. Every single species on the planet must thrive. And that’s how we’ve got to do it. Now we’re so highly developed in this, that, or the other, we have to continue. We can’t just accept that this is it. That’s not how evolution works.
“Not at all. We have to keep going. We have to keep changing. We have to keep adapting.”
Q: While taking part in urgent public health studies, what has been your proudest achievement?
“I think we have seen how incredible things can be on a global scale when we’re looking at collaboration and unity across multiple different fields. So not just health care, not just science: looking at the distribution of information, looking at the communication between countries, to make sure that we’re working with one goal – to get people better – to make sure that we everybody is trying to standardise this treatment and make sure that we’re trying to get through this pandemic as quickly as possible.
“In recent years there’s been a reluctance for countries and for research regions to kind of keep hold of what they’ve got, for the sake of trying to benefit from it the most. If it’s their work, then they want to get something for that. Research is very expensive, don’t get me wrong. But because of the urgency of what we’ve seen with Covid-19 and how it spread across the world, there’s been that kind of selfishness.
“I think we’ve seen this wonderful, united effort going forward. And I think the proudest thing for me was being able to communicate to patients to still get involved in these urgent public health studies when there was a lot of conspiracy around. There was a lot of fear, though; some scientists were thinking ‘actually, we might be the first to try this vaccine’.
“We were also worried about it. And I think we were a little bit more communicative about that than we had been in previous medical fields. For me, it was being able to successfully communicate with patients and encourage them to take part in research, despite things being a little bit uncertain, because that meant we were able to be honest and open with them. We’re making a genuine connection with them, in a time when connections have been more difficult than ever.
“So, I think that was so rewarding, knowing that people still believed in medical research, people still believed that it was necessary and that they were willing to give their time. And it has all been so beneficial. I really want that to continue going forward. I want people to still be interested and still be wanting to be a part of the research, as well as understanding that it’s such a huge contribution to make society.
“You know, if you contribute to research, that’s brilliant. You’ve done an amazing thing. I really hope that continues. And it has been really rewarding to witness that during the pandemic.”
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