How F1 in schools drives improved gender balance

Historically, there was “no place for women” in Formula 1. Not as drivers, engineers or arguably even fans. Vanessa Lau of Bumblebee Racing offers her insights on how more women means a more successful F1 all round… 

Although society’s attitude to women has shifted considerably since the beginning of the last century, women still only make up 24% of the workforce in STEM.

The percentages of women pursuing jobs in computer science and engineering are even lower, with 16% and 10% respectively.

STEM is still undoubtedly a male-dominated space but we are Bumblebee Racing, an F1 in Schools team that is dedicated to changing this and breaking down barriers of entry for Women in STEM.

What is F1 in Schools?

F1 in Schools is an international competition that challenges students to design, manufacture and race a model of a Formula 1 car. Within this, it inspires students to pursue careers in STEM and explore new scientific concepts.

Historically, there had been no place for women in Formula 1. Recently, both the moral and business case for diversity has been more widely recognised by companies, and there have been more efforts to rectify the lack of women in STEM in the status quo.

Girls on Track

Things like the ‘Girls on Track’ initiative and the all-female driver’s academy in F1 are testament to the work that has been put in. However, we think that these initiatives are only applicable at a higher level, while change has to come from all levels of the pathway; from actually working in Formula 1 to the grassroots, such as these school competitions.

What we represent is a change at this level, helping push for more diversity and representation. Progress comes from deviating from the norm and pushing boundaries. We defied expectations, achieving a 3rd place at our regional competition in our first year.

As well as this, all other teams in our regional round were all-male teams, demonstrating our rare achievement. Through our determination and continued passion, we went beyond what others expected us to reach: what we have achieved demonstrates that it can be done. We did not let preconceived misconceptions hold us back: this is what makes teams like ours so exciting.

“Everything we love about STEM”

Formula 1, and F1 in schools, represents everything that we love about STEM.

It is always about pushing the boundaries of innovation and what’s possible. In Formula 1, milliseconds define winners and losers. They offer endless opportunities for our own personal growth, innovation and impact.

Formula 1 is all about balance: the perfect balance must be struck with downforce (which is needed for traction on the turns) and drag, (which is increased with downforce, leading to lost time on the straights).

The trade-offs and balance is something that separates teams from the rest, and is something that we have to constantly explore and improve on. With Formula 1 and F1 in Schools, there are constantly more improvements to be made and more creative ways that we can solve problems.

We do this with each iteration, always asking ourselves how we can improve. It demands hard work, creativity, and a willingness to take on new challenges. But it also offers a chance to be part of something bigger, to pursue excellence and always push for more.

We had puzzled over why the Computer Aided Design (CAD) software Fusion 360 was not working in accordance with our expectations, making an inorganic shape, before we realised that we were going about it in the entirely wrong way and instead made a much smoother and more organic shape with another tool.

Having to change our way of thinking or take a few steps back in order to progress makes the process all the more interesting and is a part of the problem-solving process.

What we are passionate about and what keeps driving us is this constant demand for more. There is always that extra millisecond that can be found, a new way to be quicker. Challenging puzzles are even more satisfying when solved, and working together as a team to brainstorm solutions and take on new perspectives reminds us why we are passionate about Formula 1 and STEM.

However, we wanted to do so much more with this competition than the required designing and manufacturing of the car: we wanted to make a difference and inspire more young minds to pursue STEM, the subject that we are very passionate about.

We had many initiatives to achieve this goal, such as starting an F1 in Schools primary class, where we led a group of primary school students through a 6-week course about STEM and Formula 1.

We helped them construct a model Formula 1 car and taught them about the science behind the design of a Formula 1 car. We also hope to raise awareness about women who are currently working in Formula 1 through our own social media, educating people about the career and life of a different woman that has worked in motorsports every week.

Breaking down barriers for women and girls in STEM

Although the barrier of entry to STEM is high for women, we are so passionate about helping to break down these barriers and stereotypes because we would love for more people to share the passion of STEM that we have.

The constant push for innovation and improvement is something that drives us all, and with STEM you can make a difference and uniquely help other people. F1 in Schools has been such a rewarding experience for us, and we hope to inspire others to follow in our footsteps and work towards breaking the stereotypes that held us back for so long.

STEM is truly something beautiful, and it is even more so when shared and accessible for all.

This article originally appeared here.