As part of our Empowering Women in Construction podcast series, we’re broadcasting stories from amazing women across the country. On this week’s episode, we spoke to Paulette Watson, winner of the 2019 Wintrade Award for Women in Engineering.
Paulette is the Managing Director for Academy Achievers, a non-profit organisation that works with children and young people between the ages of 5-19 years.
“I set up Academy Achievers around 20 years ago. We work with children and young people from disaffected, disadvantaged, and marginalised communities…
“I started Academy Achievers when I was living in Lewisham with my daughter. I was initially researching different demographics; I was looking at white working class boys, and afro-caribbean boys, and how we could raise the aspiration level.
“As time went by, things were changing. The world was evolving. And then focus shifted to issues such as gang related violence. We decided that we weren’t going to teach maths and english like they [normally do] at schools. We were going to try and diversify it. Make it fun, make it innovative.”
Paulette also started the #BeMe campaign, focussed specifically on getting Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) girls into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) subjects.
“When we started to do our projects, we had a lot of boys, but no girls. That’s how the #BeMe project came about – to raise black girls’ aspirations in science, tech, engineering and maths related careers.
“When we started to look at the data, young BAME girls were at the bottom of the pile. We wanted to diversify the tech industry on so many different levels.”
Paulette attributes female skill gaps in certain industries from BAME communities to historic and systematic issues.
“There’s gaps in degrees; girls are less likely to take up stem subjects. Employment gaps, retention gaps, workplace cultural issues, lack of representation, lack of role models. There’s pay gaps for women in tech, leadership position gaps…
“With all these issues, young black women do not have the opportunity to see women within these particular roles. As far as they’re concerned, they don’t exist…
“Still creating this ecosystem, I was able to train teachers in Ghana.” – LinkedIn
“It’s not just being a woman. You have to think about disability, race, and cultural experiences. As a black woman, we’ve got all these disadvantages we have to manoeuvre through. There’s no way we’re going to have that mindset needed to get into these jobs.
“When I say black, I really don’t want to exclude people. It’s just that there’s a real problem, and I want to highlight that. Gender and diversity are a big issue.”
Paulette is calling for a work-culture shift, and highlights the responsibility companies and educational institutions have to enact change.
“Tech companies, industry, you have to involve people, whether they’re women, men, people of colour, whatever it is. We need to feel valued. Get us involved with the planning process. Hear what we have to say.
“It may seem trivial; whatever. Let us talk, give us a voice, and let us be seated at the table. Let us be the co-designers…
“Companies, corporations, if you listen to your staff, (and integrate diversity), you’ll improve morale, you’ll see people more committed, you’ll see production capacity improve, and you’ll see a major return on your investment. Tenfold.”
You can listen to the full episode below: