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In your Network: Helen Wollaston

Helen Wollaston FRSA is the Director of WISE, an organisation which promotes female talent in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (also known as STEM). Find out what inspires her and how you can get involved in the annual WISE awards: 

1) Please give a brief explanation of what it is you do and why?
I run WISE, a social enterprise which promotes female talent in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It is a great job, because I get to meet interesting people who love what they do and I learn new things every day about business, industry and the world around us. Science, engineering and technology touch our lives in so many ways. Women have an invaluable contribution to make - we need to inspire more of them to get involved. WISE has taken on the legacy of the UKRC, which was a government-funded national resource centre on women in STEM. I was taken on last year to turn it into a viable social business, which is a challenge but also a fantastic opportunity!

2) Why did you join the Fellowship?
I hope to meet like-minded people who are equally passionate about making a difference. There are important links to be made between sectors and industries - especially in times of economic constraint. I have previously worked in the voluntary sector, grant-making, equalities and the criminal justice system. As well as leading WISE, I am a non-executive director of a Foundation Trust providing mental health and community health services. I enjoy making connections and sharing ideas and experiences, which is exactly what I hope to gain from the RSA. We will have more impact by working together.

3) In what capacity do you think you could contribute to society/the Fellowship?
In my role as Director of WISE, I am interested in exploring links between science and arts subjects through the RSA. I have a lifelong commitment to promoting opportunities for women and would like to work via the RSA to give women of all ages and all backgrounds a bigger say and influence in shaping society. Finally, I look forward to working with other Fellows in Yorkshire - to rebalance the London and south-east focus of so many national initiatives. 

4) What would you change in society given the chance?
I would make sure that everyone is encouraged to do what they love and are good at, no matter what their gender, family circumstances,  race or culture.

5) What recent bit of news have you heard which inspires you?
The Prime Minister announced a new scheme this week to introduce 100,000 new engineering apprenticeships by 2018. Last year just 400 women did an engineering apprenticeship, compared to 12,880 men. The increased number is a massive opportunity to get more girls and women involved.

6) What did you learn last week?
I learned to recognise the call of a curlew, heard whilst walking with friends in the Peak District. For me, walking the hills and mountains of Northern England and Scotland is the best way to unwind and keep things in perspective. 

7) Tell us about another interesting Fellow you have spoken to.
Three of the non-executive directors on the WISE Board are RSA Fellows - Professor Averil Macdonald (who nominated me), Annette Williams, who founded the UKRC, and Trudy Norris-Grey, the Chair. Like the rest of the Board, they wear many hats and bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and contacts. Our board meetings are always stimulating and lively affairs!

8) What would you like to connect with Fellows about? Please tell us if there is anything (i.e. experience, expertise etc) you would like from other Fellows.
Firstly, I want to spread the word about our annual WISE awards, which promote female talent in science, engineering and technology, from classroom to boardroom. Nominations in ten categories can be made up until 31 July. Full details on the WISE website at

I am very keen to connect with Fellows who share our vision of 30% of the UK STEM workforce being female. The current figure is just 13% - so we have a long way to go, but if more people join us to do something practical to address the barriers, rather than putting resources and energy into yet more inquiries and research, I am confident that we can make a real difference. The benefit to UK industry would be massive.

Helen Wollaston

Helen Wollaston



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