Celebrating women in STEM with our female apprentices

As we celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science this year, we’re proud that in 2019 nearly half of the apprentices joining our STEM roles across the UK and Ireland were female.

International Day of Women in Science and Technology
(Left: Grace Keen, Right: Cherri Chan)

At Unilever, we’re committed to ‘#UnStereotype the Workplace’, our internal campaign and commitment towards achieving a work culture which is free of any stereotyping and bias.

One way we look to do this is by identifying areas of the business where men have traditionally held more roles than women and introduce programmes to try and redress this balance. Recently our Future Careers team have boosted investment into our early careers outreach, with a focus on encouraging more females to consider careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Here in the UK & Ireland, as well as our own school outreach programmes, we’ve worked with great partners such as Big Bang North West and I Am The Code to get young people excited about careers in STEM.

That’s why we’re delighted that last year 47% of apprentices joining our STEM roles were female.

To encourage more young women to have a think about a career in STEM, we talked to two of our apprentices, Grace Keen and Cherri Chan, about their roles and asked them what they love about working in science and technology.

Tell us about your role at Unilever - What team are you in, and what do you do?

Grace: I am on the Data Science Degree Apprenticeship programme with Unilever. I look after our Data Management Platform for all our Foods & Refreshment Brands.

Cherri: I'm an R&D packaging apprentice working in the packaging capability team at Colworth. Currently, I'm testing different materials and creating prototypes for packaging. In addition to this, I'm working towards digitising our labs - this includes ensuring that results can be recorded in a universal way so that everyone can understand and create test methods.

What has surprised you most about your role?

Grace: I think the thing that has surprised me most since starting my role is how much goes into running marketing campaigns. There are so many different people specialised in different areas that all have impact within a campaign, including data insight, and it’s so interesting learning about everyone’s areas of expertise and then working alongside them to create a brilliant campaign.

Cherri: I think responsibility has been a big aspect. Part of my role is to be a ‘room keeper’ for the packaging lab. This means that I get in touch with our contractors to organise calibration and maintenance work to be carried out, arrange payment and train other colleagues on pieces of equipment. Also, I get to work with lots of different types of people with different industrial backgrounds, which is a great way to learn and gain a deeper insight into the packaging industry.

What excites you about STEM?

Grace: I love having the opportunity to work in Data Science because I am always learning something new. Working with data, you are always finding innovative and insight led ways of doing things and I find that really exciting.

Cherri: STEM is incorporated into our everyday lives, and without it, we wouldn't be where we are today. Science and technology is always advancing; from biodegradable materials, to 3D printed hearts, to the exploration of green energy, to making manufacturing processes more efficient. These developments help us work towards a more sustainable future.

We know there is a perception that STEM roles are male dominated. What do you think about this stereotype?

Grace: In my experience, I’ve been really lucky because I don’t feel like I’ve faced any barriers throughout my career. The culture at Unilever is really inclusive and I’ve been fully supported in my team. I’d really encourage anyone to pursue a career in STEM if it’s what they’re passionate about. At Unilever, we promote equal opportunities for all employees, and I’m delighted that I’ve been given the opportunity to study a subject that I have such a strong interest and passion for.

Cherri: This stereotype doesn't bother me, as long as you have a good mind set, are passionate about STEM and want to do good for the future; don’t let stereotypes stop you from having a career in STEM.

What do you want to do when you’ve finished your apprenticeship?

Grace: I still have a few years before I finish my apprenticeship, so who knows what different opportunities will be around then! I know I would like to continue working in data whilst ensuring that I am still pushing and challenging myself every day.

Cherri: To be honest I'm not sure, 5 years is a long way away! But I'd like to be involved in projects where I’m working with a range of different materials to reduce plastic waste and having a positive impact on the environment.

If you were a Unilever product, what would you be and why?

Grace: I would maybe be a Pot Noodle – I believe in the ‘cook less, live more’ statement as I love to experience new things and new places…especially revolving around food.

Cherri: I'd be a Ben and Jerry's Pecan Resist, as women around the world should have a right to vote and voice their opinions.

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