Rosie the Riveter dies, but her legacy lives on through women in STEM

Sophie Jarvis
Naomi Parker Fraley is still an inspiration to all the California Dreamers across the world

Recognise the name Naomi Parker Fraley?

Most people don’t. But you’ll probably recognise the woman in the picture. Her alias was Rosie the Riveter and on Monday she sadly passed away, at the age of 96.

California girl Fraley was a factory worker in her home state. While the men were fighting on the fronts of Europe, she was one of millions of women across the United States beavering away in the factories. The story goes that a photographer saw Fraley working and approached her to take the iconic picture.

Read more: Why India beats Britain for women in tech

Over the years, she has come to symbolise the “we can do it” attitude among women in all sectors, particularly the male-dominated ones.

So what would the woman in the picture make of the current state of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects in the UK in 2018? Probably not much, given that nine percent of the engineering workforce are women, while just 15.8 per cent of engineering and technology undergraduates in the UK are female, compared to 30 per cent undergraduates in India, according to the Women in Engineering Society.

But it’s essential that we ascertain whether STEM subjects are something that women want to take. In the old Soviet states such as Russia, Poland and Ukraine, we now see high numbers of female engineers. In contrast, in historically developed countries that have tried to engineer the workforce so that it’s as equal as possible, such as Sweden, women are still underrepresented in STEM related jobs.

It would seem that, when women do have the freedom to choose, they choose non-STEM subjects and jobs. Let’s not forget, Rosie Fraley didn’t actually have a choice to work in a factory – she did so out of necessity.

Nonetheless, we should strive for a society where equal opportunity is given, and some groups currently don’t feel as though that is being provided. Sweden currently has twice the number of women in engineering roles as the UK at 20 per cent, but it’s not clear what is driving the difference between the UK and Sweden. It is probably not different freedom, but it might be due to more equality of opportunity and a more gender egalitarian culture.

Innovate UK recently held a campaign demonstrating a number of women who have started their own business in the tech and engineering sectors. Creating role models for young girls is crucial, as many have a preconceived idea of what it is to be a business owner or an engineer. Young girls view these careers as male, and the media has the power to challenge this.

Women also still struggle to receive the same levels of financing, when it comes to raising venture capital for their businesses. It’s been well documented that female founders are 86 per cent less likely to receive venture capital funding than male founders. Promoting women who’ve succeeded in raising finance as role models in the media is encouraging and helpful for female entrepreneurs.

Mentoring is another practical step we can take in encouraging women in the sector we work in. Whether it be journalism, entrepreneurship or engineering, if women higher up the ladder look behind them this will help women immensely.

So what should we do? Let's make sure that every female is able to have the life they want, but also be given the opportunity to question expectations – even their own.

Rosie the Riveter is still an inspiration to all the California Dreamers across the world.

Read more: Sexism has no place in the UK’s tech industry

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