Innovating inclusion: Victoria Roskams on inspiring women in STEAM and construction
We talk to Victoria Roskams, Engagement Manager at The Enbarr Foundation CIC, about being recognised as an inspirational businesswoman in STEM and construction, the challenges she’s faced along the way and much more.
Conceived by Roni Savage, CEO and Founder of Jomas Associates (Engineering & Environmental), a construction services company, the Inspirational Business Women in STEM & Construction initiative was a response to the findings of The Alison Rose Review. This UK Government-commissioned review highlighted the underrepresentation of women entrepreneurs in the UK’s most productive sectors and the potential for female entrepreneurship to contribute an additional £250bn to the economy. The review also stressed the need to encourage young women to study STEM subjects as a means to boost female start-up rates in these sectors, particularly given that women hold only 29.4% of STEM roles.
The initiative aimed to identify exceptional women entrepreneurs in STEM and Construction, serving as influential role models for future generations. These remarkable individuals challenge the norms in industries traditionally dominated by men.
What sector of the STEM workforce do you work for and how did you get there?
Due to having several organisations, I branch across several sectors within STEM, we have the Educational/Employability/Training support sector, as well as the innovation and grassroots of the third sector which builds solutions from the foundations upwards, not top-down. I was very privileged from a very difficult start as a child, with very adverse early impact, from being judged unruly and disruptive, to being sent off and spending my teenage years in the USA with a very nurturing education system where they allowed young people to pick their electives and become big dream thinkers from an early age. In school, we had pep rallies, where we celebrated victory, but we also picked people up when they didn’t win, and it was all built on team spirit and togetherness. Yes, you had your cliques, but people really looked after each other in the school I went to in Hummelstown.
It was here I really got to understand my passion for Space and Engineering, and studied all the electives around this, but even got to embrace passion electives like photography, and farm management and I even did driving school and gained my licence. It was from this type of schooling that I learnt 2 things:
- the only barriers that we have are the ones we put on ourselves, and if we surround ourselves with the right support anything is achievable
- The importance of art to bring all the human aspects of STEM together
I utilise the word STEAM rather than STEM; shifting to a STEAM perspective means understanding the importance Arts have on the framework and illustrating where the subjects overlap whilst providing a living and adapting development programme for both work and life. As a neurodiverse individual, I sometimes see the world differently from others, and can sometimes find differing situations challenging at times, but by nurturing and adding Arts to strategic processes within these sectors, and embracing my individuality, I have developed my own adaptability whilst creating innovative pathways and frameworks of learning required for the transferability of skills across many sectors.
This has also led to the Enbarr Foundation’s core strategy of creating many new diverse innovative solutions splicing heritage with technology together to support some of the most complex socio-demographic concerns, whilst using the power of arts (language, communication and marketing) to give the wider community a voice to produce impact, power, legacy and change needed to streamline the construction and engineering fields, bringing peoples visions to life.
How does it feel to be recognised as an Inspirational Businesswoman in STEM and Construction?
It’s always wonderful to receive public recognition for something you have done and – in this case – something that I took a risk to do. People have now listened to our story, looked at my business and believed that it is something good. Since setting up the Foundation part of my business, I have given up a great salary, worked silly hours, and my work-life balance went out the window. I did this because I truly believed that people needed to be supported, and a change was needed for the people of our local region. Educating, training, and hiring more women and other underrepresented groups in STEAM is part of our DNA, and helps support better financial outcomes and impact for the region.
The recognition forces you to reflect on your achievements, successes, and positives, which is something that we generally don’t make enough time for, as we are so focused on the present and future. It’s easy to focus on challenges, issues, and negative situations that you have to deal with, but reflection is vital to any business. Not only does it make you feel proud, but it also helps you figure out what you do well and why so that you can carry on doing more of it and use it to shape your business or career for the better. It also allowed us to network and meet some amazing other inspirational ladies from around the UK, and share stories and shared learning.
What’s the best advice you have for young people looking to go into this field of study?
Construction is a perfect example of an industry that can be at the forefront of this change, setting an example to the rest, and showing the benefits of encouraging more girls to consider construction as a career. However, please consider apprenticeships. I have had a few individuals come through my organisation now who have started on one pathway and have tried a few other roles within the site due to the opportunities we can offer, and they have changed their direction. My advice would be don’t be afraid to change your mind; you are young, and life is long. The ultimate is to feel excited to go to work every day.
STEM and construction is, arguably, a male-dominated space. What challenges have you faced as a woman and how have you overcome them?
We must ensure more women and girls participate in STEAM disciplines to help strengthen climate strategies. With women and girls empowered to take on leadership roles and contribute to climate mitigation and adaptation, it creates opportunities for them to redefine and transform our economies and societies. There’s a gap for not just women but other minorities to have a more active role within construction and engineering and for organisations to have a trusted sounding board; a group of joined-up thinkers who can forge relationships with public/private sector leaders and collaborators, for this sector to grow and sustain.
I’d also love us to be part of changing some of these sector perceptions; smashing the ‘fluffy’ beliefs that often surround the delivery model, showing that we are serious about business, that we can deliver and walk the talk with the best business leaders, and still equally help society breaking down the commercial barriers to business.
The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship effectively states women would prove beneficial to the space but only occupy just under a third (29.4%) of the roles in the STEM workforce. Do you see us heading in the right way towards equality in the sector?
In certain STEAM sectors, women are punching above their weight, especially in the Space sector. When we look back to war times it was the norm for women to operate the factories and engineers’ tasks, and rebuilt Britain; the glass ceiling was already smashed but in came the 1960s and we were pushed back behind the sink. We need to change the narrative, and people’s mindsets, and showcase some of these great “Inspiring role models” of our past. Sometimes we need to go back to basics and revisit our culture to rebuild what is broken, and that through key messaging and building key ambassador networks to educate and inspire others. Let’s not make it exclusively for women and girls, but instead have an ultimate goal of treating everyone as equal, getting kids and young people to think “Yes this is a really good career choice – I would be quite interested in doing this in my future’.
2023 marks 105 years since women got the vote after Political Activist Emmeline Pankhurst began the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and Viscountess Nancy Astor was elected to parliament. British women have been doing incredible things for centuries; people just forgot. Ada Lovelace laid the foundations for computers and computer programming as we know it, Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice plots often explore a woman’s social standing, marriage and economic security well before it should of, and let’s not forget Helen Sharman who became the first British Astronaut well before Tim Peake at just 27, making her the 6th youngest ever to have visited space. I truly believe we are now heading in the right direction but do feel that the only way we can move forward is to embrace our past and celebrate it and allow our young people the chance to grow organically with the right mentoring and support to realise their dreams are possible.
What are your plans for the future?
We are at the beginning of a fourth industrial revolution and educators are faced with preparing a generation of students for many jobs that don’t even exist yet, and sectors on other planets not yet discovered. We want to create opportunities for all and break down barriers built up over the past few decades, and help our governments build better well-rounded educational attainment for all. STEAM incorporates the benefits of STEM and with the addition of the arts gives a more complete, well-rounded education.
Although some feel this distinction is unnecessary because regular STEM incorporates creativity, leaders of the STEAM movement feel that the arts provide a critical missing piece to STEM education that then prepares students to not only understand science, technology, engineering, and math but also know how to apply principles from each of these disciplines to creatively solve problems both in today’s society and help inspire future generations.
In STEAM education, science supports people to understand the laws of the world. Engineering and technology support people to transform the world according to social needs. Art then helps people enrich the world in good form. Mathematics provides structural analysis for people to develop and apply science, engineering, art and technology methods and analysis tools. Through art, students have a better understanding of past and present cultures and aesthetics; students understand human nature and morality, freedom and art knowledge, which all help to understand social development.
We have tailored this both culturally and through skills with our latest project to renovate a heritage building splicing both heritage skills, and the well-being of the community, with innovative space technology, and advanced manufacturing techniques and processes to solve serious community and climate issues locally and more widely.
What makes a great business leader?
I’m not a big fan of the word leader, I much prefer mentor because to me leader is the wrong representation of the person always at the front whereas a mentor walks beside and brings people along the journey with them. That is critical in any business. Yes, you need a strong person who can make the decision and is good with communication, financial management (or have someone to delegate it to) and time management, but you also need the 4 pillars that hold the roof up, the team you bring together to support your objectives and grow, as you are only as strong as your weakest link.
If you’re passionate about making a difference, owning your own business gives you the perfect platform to do just that. Whether you’re using your business to promote social change or giving back in other ways, being a woman business owner gives you the opportunity to make a real difference in the world. However, be very careful as there are many out there who will try and discredit; you need to stay strong, focussed, resilient and stick true to your values, and most importantly, know the “why” you are doing it in the first place.