If you’ve watched Dr Michelle Dickinson’s TEDx Talk you’ll know her unwavering passion for science started when she was just a kid. It’s all part of the reason Dickinson – or Nanogirl as she’s known to her younger fans – is so dedicated to talking about and breaking down stereotypes that exist in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. “Science and engineering are sold as nerdy, isolating places but actually, they can be really fun, social spaces where people work together to solve big world problems,” Dickinson says. “Part of what I do is communicate STEM research to show people that it is really diverse and there’s something for everyone in the disciplines.”
Encouraging more women to study science and engineering is only half of the challenge Dickinson faces: Studies have shown that nearly 40 per cent of females with engineering degrees never enter the field or end up leaving the profession. “The study stated reasons like the lack of flexible hours in the workplace and feelings of isolation and loneliness,” and Dickinson believes these are still issues within many engineering workplaces. “I’m seeing the banking sector make great strides in increasing their number of females in senior leadership roles by ensuring employees have unconscious bias training and ensuring HR creates job descriptions that require less specific technical skills and more adaptive personality qualities. I’d love to see more engineering firms take on this type of leadership to help make changes in the STEM fields; smaller more traditional companies can seem quite intimidating to a new female graduate,” Dickinson explains.
When she’s not tackling gender stereotypes or donning her lab coat to run New Zealand’s only nano-mechanical research laboratory, at the University of Auckland, Dickinson spends her time inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers. “I co-founded OMGTech! to ensure any child in New Zealand who wants to learn about technology can,” Dickinson says. Dickinson’s national charity runs courses around the country every four weeks teaching kids and their teachers how to code and build and programme robots among other things. “OMGTech!’s core values mean that we really want to tackle the lack of diversity in the tech sector so we offer our workshops for free service to all decile one-to-four schools and have a minimum requirement of 50 per cent female attendees.”