You get an extra post this week! Why? Because today, February 11 is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
Today we remember that only 30% of researchers are women, despite the fact the women take over 70% of total university qualifications. Women have also taken less than 3% of Nobel prizes in science throughout history. But women are essential to work in science and today we can encourage younger girls that they can do whatever they want, regardless of this difference.
I’ve never been too concerned about the gender gap. I figured (and still do) that there is equal opportunity for men and women, so that although women may feel peer-pressured, prejudiced or undervalued they are still able to achieve if they are not bothered.
Until fairly recently I also thought that this gap was nearly gone … until I had to give an oral presentation on an issue of prejudice. Naturally I picked the prejudice against women in STEM, figuring that I could argue persuasively as I’m familiar with STEM, regardless of whether I think it’s that big an issue.
I did manage to argue persuasively that it was an issue, but more importantly, I discovered that it was a bigger issue than I thought. I thought male and female researchers were about even- they are in Biology, but in engineering there’s only about 18% women. Women are generally paid less when all other factors are controlled and less likely to be given leadership positions.
It hasn’t made want to go into research any less.
In the assignment I argued from my own experiences as a minority:
I know first-hand what it’s like to be the only girl in a high school robotics class. I’ve had friends who are going into arts, humanities, music, hairdressing, nursing … and I’m the one girl who put up her hand and said ‘I want to be a research scientist’.
I just left out the fact that it doesn’t bother me to be the one girl on the maths team or in science competitions. In fact, if anything, I enjoy it. Showing up people’s prejudices and saying ‘take that’!
So yes, there’s less women, but if we just grin and carry on doing what we love and encouraging younger STEM girls, we’ll do far more to remove gender prejudices than by getting angry and ranting about it!
So maybe learn about some famous female scientists: Marie Curie, still the only person in the world to have won Nobel prizes in 2 different fields of science. Rosalind Franklin, who would have won the Nobel for the ‘DNA revolution’ if her work hadn’t been stolen by Watson and Crick. Or just curl up on the couch and watch the amazing 2016 film, ‘Hidden Figures’ to celebrate today!