What do you want to be when you grow up? How will your friends, your teachers, your parents, or society as a whole play into your chosen career path? This has been on Misha Fischer’s mind for some time. She wants to encourage other girls to study science, and believes it should be easier for women to carve out careers in traditionally male-dominated fields, like engineering.
The 15-year-old German Swiss International School student has made it her mission to promote careers in science, technology, engineering and maths – or “Stem subjects” – among her female peers, while also supporting and working with The Women’s Foundation (TWF), a non-profit organisation that improves the lives of women and girls in Hong Kong.
She leads a student-run organisation called Cell: Community Engagement in Learning and Living. In December, Cell hosted a seminar at GSIS where panellists working in Stem industries spoke to students. The school’s 10-strong team has also worked with TWF to organise a classical concert fundraiser, Mindmuse, held at Hong Kong City Hall next month. The concert will be a chance for Misha to perform with a student ensemble, as well as speak alongside Su-mei Thompson, CEO of The Women’s Foundation, on the subject of women in Stem.
“It’s often because of societal stigmas starting from a young age that women are discouraged from going into Stem fields,” Misha explains. “It’s subconscious and subtle. It comes from years and years of being discouraged from going into Stem.”
There wasn’t one particular moment that made Misha vow to seek change, it was more of a gradual process. She was in Year Seven when her mother, studying for a masters degree in education, conducted a survey of GSIS students to find out their perceptions of different careers, and which they’d associate with the different genders.
“The results were pretty surprising,” says Misha. “You had a lot of girls who thought being shy was a feminine trait, and being confident was a male trait. And how doctors and construction workers were male jobs, whereas females were nurses or teachers.”
As soon as she noticed the difference, she wanted to make a change, but didn’t know how. As she got older, and started focusing on a career in Stem, the gap between men and women in Stem became more relevant and imminent, and she knew she had to take action.
A lot of companies have responded to the issue by using quotas to balance their workforce ratios, but Misha doesn’t believe this is the best way to generate change.
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“Change needs to be encouraged in a more organic way – company inclusiveness and diversity policies can help promote women in Stem, but what the TWF is doing, running workshops and talks, is more helpful, as it develops an interest in Stem from an early age.”
The classical music concert has more to do with science than you might think. Misha is not only a keen scientist, but an accomplished percussionist, who performed on the marimba at the TWF gala dinner in November.
“Music is a pattern, which links it with maths. When you’re playing music, you require the same type of creativity and the same type of imagination ... that science and engineering also [require].”
Mindmuse is being held next month, so that Misha will have time to study to take her GCSEs in the summer. After that, her work with Cell and TWF will form the “service” part of her IB, though she admits it will be more of a struggle to find the time.
“It won’t be the end,” she says. “I’ll carry on supporting women in Stem and TWF. And Cell’s goal is to help the underprivileged in Hong Kong, so next year we might take on a different initiative or fundraiser.
“It all boils down to the fact that science is really important – not for my own interests, but for how innovation can change the fate of society. One major discovery can change everything. I didn’t think it was fair or right to have one half of society blocked off from that.”
Mindmuse will be held on February 7. Performers will include renowned pianist Warren Lee, HK Philharmonic principal bass clarinettist Lorenzo Iosco, HK Philharmonic cellist Tae-Mi Song, and Orquesta Barrio de Tango (tango music and dance).
All proceeds and sponsorship will be donated to TWF. Tickets are available from Urbtix.