More STEM subjects for women seen as key to unlocking defence innovation

Posted on 8 March, 2021 by Advance 

The latest instalment of the DSEI Defence Leaders Webinars has centred the building and retention of a diverse and talented workforce and was hosted by Air Vice Marshal (Retd.) Gary Waterfall, Senior Defence Adviser for Clarion Defence and Security.

Image courtesy DSEI

Panellists included Sarah Wiseman, Deputy Director-Head of Exports Policy for the Ministry of Defence, Lieutenant General James Swift, Chief of Defence People for the Ministry of Defence, and Dr. Sue Metcalff, CTO and Head of MoD Research & Advice Division at ATLAS ELEKTRONIK UK Ltd. Questions submitted by cadets and apprentices were put to the panel by Sub-Lieutenant Iona Erkhart of the Royal Navy and Flight Lieutenant Sabrina Sheikh of the RAF.

This latest exclusive DSEI Defence Leaders webinar, entitled ‘Choose to Challenge, sought to examine the changing nature of the Armed Forces and how it must adapt to be more inclusive and flexible in order to meet the challenges of the modern world. Panellists agreed that one of the main challenges of achieving this goal is the external barrier of gender expectations which promote the idea that women are less suited to defence policy, which is absolutely not the case.

Emphasis was placed upon the need to increase the appeal of STEM subjects to girls in schools, as only 25% of STEM subjects are female. Sue Metcalfe pointed out the need to target each age group at key stages in order for STEM subjects to be more inclusive, which would create 'huge opportunities' for the future of innovation in the UK, both in defence and the wider civil sector.

One of the main conclusions drawn from the webinar is that the world is changing and the Armed Forces must evolve to reflect those changes in a way that our potential adversaries are not. Sarah Wiseman pointed out that many of the UK’s potential adversaries deliberately exclude women from their policymaking decisions, “which gives us a strategic advantage,” citing the example of the all-women team which secured the Iran nuclear deal.

There were lessons to be learned from the pandemic, not only in terms of the importance of balanced childcare but also in terms of mental health and flexibility in the workplace. According to James Swift, “flexibility is the key enabler,” and a successful workplace is one which is most adaptable to change.

The panellists all agreed that the route to a more inclusive and diverse Armed Forces is neither linear nor short and must be walked by those at all levels of the military.

To watch the full discussion visit