Members' Formal Dinner with Sir Dermot Turing Bt

Date: 18 Nov 2021
Time: 18:30

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Decoding the STEM gender divide

Sir Dermot Turing, nephew of the famous code-breaking Sir Alan Turing, has challenged Milton Keynes businesses to work with local educational settings to break the gender divide within STEM professions.

Breaking down the legacy and Hollywood version of his celebrated uncle, Sir Dermot revealed how women played a vital role in shaping the mind of the famous mathematician and computer scientist - and how this fact was airbrushed from history.

“History has us believe that Bletchley Park was full of tweed wearing, pipe-smoking males working as code-breakers while the women worked as clerical staff. This couldn’t be further from the truth, at that time jobs were gender segregated, so even female code-breakers were listed under other, more menial roles.”

“Bletchley Park was full of very bright women – so destroy the traditional myth in your mind”

Speaking at a recent Milton Keynes Business Leaders Partnership dinner, Sir Dermot animatedly discussed the influence women had on his uncle’s life from a very early age, which helped realise his full potential. Admitting that he did not inherit Sir Alan’s mathematical mind, Sir Dermot, who has enjoyed a long career as a lawyer, explained how the family come from a long line of women in STEM, through his maternal grandmother.

“Alan was certainly not a misogynist – he gave women career opportunities throughout his entire life.”

As the acclaimed author of ‘X, Y & Z: The Real Story Of How Enigma Was Broken’ Sir Dermot reminded leaders from business communities across Milton Keynes that legacy is about the future.

After the war, a lot of the women at Bletchley Park went back into civilian life and to all intents and purposes disappeared, taking on more traditional roles at home while the men took back the significant roles. However, the powerful role these women played throughout their time at Bletchley Park, which has only come to the fore in the last few decades, should now shape the future of women in STEM and challenge social perceptions. Particularly as gender disparity still plagues STEM professions.

According to 2020 figures, 89% of STEM businesses struggle to recruit, and the UK needs 10 times the number of PHD students in data science. A daunting picture of a very large skills deficit which will impact the progression of a town like Milton Keynes which needs to harness a strong pipeline of STEM talent to sustain its position at the forefront of technical advances.

The fact that the rate of females currently studying STEM subjects is falling – just 17% of IT subject students at A level are girls – paints an even more concerning image. As Sir Dermot pointed out: “half our talent is dropping out of the workforce, where are the girls?”

The opening of the South Central Institute of Technology (SCIoT) at Bletchley will undoubtedly nurture future talent to support the Milton Keynes tech ecosystem and businesses are working collaboratively with the college to shape the syllabus. But Sir Dermot challenged business leaders take an even more rounded approach to help shift societal view of STEM subjects and work cohesively with educational settings to help facilitate the debate around gender divide and inspire a new generation of STEM business leaders.

Sir Dermot Turing was speaking at an MKBLP dinner event held at The Holiday Inn, Milton Keynes.