Maggie Philbin OBE has been a reporter in television and radio for over 30 years on a broad range of programmes and is best known for her work in science and technology. Alongside journalism, she works closely with several organisations to find ways of improving the career paths of women in science and engineering. Maggie set up TeenTech in 2008 to give young students the opportunity to meet and be inspired by people working in technology, and she was awarded with an OBE in 2016.
“…I have been told so many times by people who now work in science or engineering and who kindly say it was all down to Tomorrow’s World, that they first started watching the show because they were really waiting for Top of The Pops…”
Coming home to science
Like many young girls I wanted to be a vet but found chemistry particularly difficult – so I switched to arts subjects at A-level. I had no idea of the wealth of opportunities across science and tech which didn’t involve chemistry.
When I walk into schools today – especially girls’ schools – it’s the same story. If they believe they are ‘good’ at the sciences, they mostly want to be doctors, vets, dentists or pharmacists. The world is so much bigger than this. My own daughter works in tech in San Francisco and says nothing she experienced at school helped her understand how good she would be in this sector and how much she would enjoy it.
I never lost my interest in science and technology. After working on Swap Shop for four years I was offered the chance to present a programme you won’t remember called The Show Me Show which proved to be a stepping stone into Tomorrow’s World. I felt like I’d come home.
My days are very varied but mostly consist of meeting people who are keen to help our company, TeenTech, reach the many thousands of young people with the potential to be brilliant but who may have no idea of their ability. We work with around 300 different companies across all our initiatives.
TeenTech helps young people understand the opportunities in contemporary industry and the skills they need to take advantage of them. We work with around 7000 students face to face through our events and award schemes and reach tens of thousands via our school resources.
I have a brilliant small team who are talented and committed to making a difference – most of our work is focussed in areas of disadvantage and I feel very proud of the difference we have made the students, teachers and income instances, whole communities.
Receiving an OBE was a wonderful surprise and it goes to the whole TeenTech team. It was very special to have our work recognised in this way – so many people have put a huge amount of effort into TeenTech over the last ten years.
Showing girls the full range of career options available to them
At the moment I feel a lot of potential is going to waste. I champion diversity for several reasons – firstly because all jobs in the future will need a level of digital skills, secondly because we currently have companies who can’t reach their full potential because they lack key talent and finally because for a very long time the world of tech has been designed and built by a very narrow sector of society.
Diversity will mean we build solutions that work for everyone, not just the fortunate few.
Science, but not as we know it
There is probably more science and tech on television than ever before but in a multi-channel age and especially one where media is consumed in so many different ways, it’s harder to reach audience who don’t believe it’s relevant or interesting. I have been told so many times by people who now work in science or engineering and who kindly say it was all down to Tomorrow’s World, that they first started watching the show because they were really waiting for Top of The Pops.
I also think that broadcasters lack the courage to have a show openly dedicated to promoting science and technology – and often it’s so well disguised that people don’t realise what they are watching is science.
Advice to girls and women who are interested in careers in science
Some subjects keep many doors open – maths is certainly one of them. However, many subjects such as languages or music can also mean you’re suited to cyber security.
It’s important to understand that people are usually hired for their personal abilities – many technical skills can be taught.
Being able to evidence your ability to work in a team, lead others, communicate well, have the tenacity keep going when others might give in – these qualities are very significant and make you stand out from the crowd of people with similar formal qualifications. I believe these core skills will become more and more important in recruiting.
For instance, when the BBC are recruiting young people for their technical apprenticeships (which lead to a degree) they are looking for people who have a genuine love of technology, a keenness to learn more and are able to demonstrate this.
Calling all Womanthology readers
We have a very busy year with TeenTech City of Tomorrow, the TeenTech Awards and many large-scale regional and in school events. In the autumn we will be celebrating our tenth birthday in a very special way. I’d like to invite your readers – whether they are parents, teachers or people working in science, technology or engineering to be part of what we’re doing.
TeenTech City of Tomorrow is designed for young people aged 8-14 and parents can enter with their kids as well as schools. Teachers or parents can apply for young people to participate in The TeenTech Awards, which are open to students aged 11-19. Register for the awards here or register for TeenTech City of Tomorrow here.