Step into STEM this Women and Girls in Science Day

Helen Crooks, Chief Data Officer

Helen Crooks

Chief Data Officer
11th February 2021
Areas covered:
Corporate
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Today is the sixth international Women and Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) awareness day, and a great day to be writing my first blog for Ofgem.

My name is Helen Crooks and I am the recently appointed Chief Data Officer for Ofgem. I have worked in data and technology since leaving university. It is still as exciting as when I started my first job as a trainee systems analyst. But it is also 37 years of very often being the only woman in the room.

It is a startling fact that while STEM touches almost all aspects of our everyday lives – from the technologies we use to the vaccines we need – in the UK, as of 2019, women still only made up 24% of the STEM workforce. At management level, this dropped further still at 14%. Yet women and girls represent just over half the UK population, and so the same in its potential. 

As a woman who has worked in technology-related roles all my career, I quite often reflect on my own path and how that may encourage people, from any background, to be interested and active in what is often considered a male domain.

My journey

To start with, my family background is farming. If you go back far enough, we were butchers and alehouse keepers. Definitely not scientific or academic. While it was obvious from an early age that I found maths easy, at A-level parents evening my family were told, “if anyone can do a maths degree, it’s Helen – but girls don’t do that sort of thing”. Needless to say, I was incensed. I switched direction from joining the army as a nurse… and off I went to study a mathematics and sociology joint-honours degree. Not your classic STEM combination, but with hindsight a fantastic combination for the career I now do!

That challenge has stuck with me. I have done many things that ‘girls don’t do’. And if you take any message from this blog, it’s that you can do ‘it’ – whatever that ‘it’ may be.

My other reflection is on my choice of study, and its relevance in the world we live today. I fully support the UN position on the critical need to train girls in science. Science brings different observations, practices, approaches and challenges to critical thinking. And quite often it introduces topics on ethical use, empathy on understanding impacts on individuals and, critically with data and data science, the ability to explain complex topics in a different way. But don’t put a barrier in for yourself if you think ‘I’m useless at maths, science, technology, data… ’. Part of our future as a profession will be to enable and inspire others to use STEM techniques that people today might think are the sole jurisdiction of economists or data scientists.

STEM for climate and consumers

Ofgem’s vision and purpose – to deliver an energy system fit for net zero at lowest cost and to protect consumers – will clearly demand STEM expertise. This includes data science, artificial intelligence and behavioural change. 

But it won’t just be in our workplace. We will need to rely on STEM skills from across the energy industry and in everything connected to it – from electric vehicles to industrial users – to be able to answer the challenge of one of the most important global goals of our age: climate change. As the energy sector regulator, diverse representation will be a fundamental part of how we achieve our mandate. The more representative we are of the people we serve, the more understanding we will have of people’s experience to make a positive difference together.

One of the excellent things Ofgem is committed to is supporting women in their entry to the organisation and career progression. We want to lead by example.

We have set ourselves aspirational targets to achieve by 2025. This includes increasing the proportion of:

  • women at each grade to 50% from an overall baseline of 46%.
  • Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff at senior management and leadership grades to 18% overall (from a baseline of 9%) and the proportion of BAME women to 9% (baseline 3%).
  • women applicants to 45% of vacant roles by the end of 2022 (from a baseline of 40% today), and 50% by 2025.

And we’ve taken important strides to further demonstrate our commitment, including across other diversity and inclusion initiatives: 

  1. Signing the POWERful Women Pledge.
  2. Establishing a Women in Leadership career development programme to encourage women across Ofgem to develop the skills, confidence and readiness to apply for senior management and leadership positions.
  3. We are currently procuring expertise to run a career accelerator programme for our BAME staff, to help promote and support talents at mid-manager level.
  4. Partnering with Energy UK and Citizens Advice to launch the Diversity in Speakers Directory, promoting external speakers in energy from BAME communities.
  5. Partnering with Energy UK’s Pride in Energy Group to launch our Power in Pride Promise to ensure inclusion for our LGBT+ colleagues.
  6. Being a Disability Confident Employer to ensure an accessible working environment for all our disabled colleagues.

Currently, around 21% of our workforce is from a STEM background with 33% female to 67% male –  a slightly higher split compared the UK average above. But we still have work to do. 

We have set direct actions to recruit more STEM women and are creating career pathways to reflect the differing needs for professions. For example, our economics team have created a career development pathway that navigates the journey from assistant economist to senior economist, which will eventually extend right through to chief economist. There are two competency frameworks: for economists and for social researchers. 

We are also looking at how we can further support the different needs we as women have in our working lives, for example as parents and care-givers. This may include enhanced use of flexible working and specifically increasing the blend between office and home working.

Things have come far since I took my first steps in STEM, and specifically technology and data. But we have a role still to challenge the norm and ensure women and girls ‘do that sort of thing’.

Helen Crooks is Ofgem’s Chief Data Officer. She is listed as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Data in 2021 (DataIQ)  and featured in the Female Lead’s 20 inspirational Women in Data 2018.

Thinking of a STEM career? This awareness day, take a look at the options open to you with Ofgem’s 2021 graduate development programme. Apply by 28 February.