Wilton Centre inspires female students on Ada Lovelace Day

The Wilton Centre has provided an insight into careers in science for groups of female students from two Teesside schools. 

They met women scientists and toured laboratories on Ada Lovelace Day – an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Ada is credited with writing the first computer programme in the 1840s and her contribution to science and learning has been marked on one special day every year since 2009.

The Wilton Centre owner Pioneer Group staged events for local schools across all 10 of its sites and Claire Morton, the Leasing and Assistant Asset Manager at the Centre, said she hoped at least one of the students returns one day as a scientist to work there: “It’s so important to sew that seed when they’re still young and haven’t yet committed to a particular path.  There are many businesses engaged here in different aspects of science and engineering and so many career routes available.”

Sent home for wearing trousers

Nearly thirty Year 7 and 8 students from the Outwood Adademy Bydales in Marske and Our Lady & St Bede School in Stockton heard from women scientists working for Centre occupiers CPI, Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies and Absolute Antibodies.  Its Chief Operations Officer Dr Catherine Bladen said times had thankfully changed: “My mum worked in this building in the 1960s and 70s when it was ICI and she was sent home one day for wearing trousers.”

She told the students that in a relatively short time the gender balance of her company had also changed. In 2012 there were no women working at executive level and 50% of Absolute Antibody’s scientists were female.  Now 50% of the executives were women and the proportion female scientists is nearly two-thirds.

Dr Bladen said there were various ways into careers in science.  Her route was conventional – science at school, university and academia – whilst a senior scientist in the company used to be a cleaner.

Science teacher Donnamarie Benvin-Duffield of Our Lady & St Bede School said the visit to the Wilton Centre will inspire her students although many of them already had an interest in science.  The school has just won an innovation award and more than half of the members of its STEM club were girls.

The Wilton Centre is home to more than 50 businesses.  Many of them work in biosciences or are involved in developing circular economies.