The International Day of Women and Girls in STEM

THE INTERNATIONAL DAY OF WOMEN AND GIRLS IN STEM

Today is the International Day of Women and Girls in STEM! The day recognizes the critical role women and girls play in science and technology.

Equality is important. The United Nations state that sustainable development cannot be achieved if there is inequality in any part of the population [1]. Gaps between genders can slow down the social and economic development, increase poverty, crime rates, and health risks, and contribute to environmental degradation [1]. Perhaps the most important plan for achieving sustainability is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which includes 17 goals that represent a call to action in order to improve people’s lives and protect the planet [2]. In 2020, there is no room for inequality of any kind, yet alone gender inequality, as nations worldwide fight the battle against climate change, poverty and shifting demographics. 

In order to improve gender equality, the United Nations General Assembly declared February 11th as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The reason for this is that STEM fields are predominantly male-oriented. In 2015, less than 30% of researchers worldwide were women [3]. UNESCO data shows that females are less prone to choose to study in STEM fields, with only 3% of women enrolling in ICT, 5% enrolling in natural science, mathematics and statistics, and 8% of women have decided to pursue a career in engineering, manufacturing and construction [3]. It is a devastating fact that only 3% of Nobel Prize Laureates in Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology or Medicine are women. 

Many possible factors can impact women’s choice of whether to study and work in STEM-related fields or not. Strong gender stereotypes, unequal access to education, less time for friends and family and the lack of strong female role models may impact that decision [4], as well as the lack of support and mentorship, and the lack of confidence, which is crucial for maintaining work motivation.

An article published in Science Magazine, in 2018, rebuked female scientists for sharing their research on social media [5]. The author of the article argues that female researchers are “not boring or unfashionable. Instead, their posts demonstrate that they’re interested in clothes and makeup, that they’re physically active, and that they are attractive romantic partners”, which is a “narrow representation of femininity” [5]. But, social media today represents a big part of our everyday lives, and in a world where we need more female role models, social media can be a good channel to gain more outreach and promote inclusiveness. To understand the importance of social media, the last available data shows that in June 2018, Instagram had one billion monthly active users, with that number predicted to increase in years to come [6]. Such a large number of users allows the promotion of research, science and discoveries, paving the way for new generations of women in science.

Now, let’s celebrate!

Lastly, to celebrate this day, let’s mention some of the most famous women in STEM. They include Katherine Johnson (NASA space scientist), Radia Perlman (computer scientist that invented the spanning-tree protocol (STP); she holds more than 100 patents [7] and is referred to as “the mother of the Internet”), Joan Clarke (cryptanalyst that was involved in decrypting the German Enigma code), Barbara McClintock (geneticist who received a Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1983), Marie Curie (the only woman in history that received two Nobel Prizes, one in Physics in 1903, and the other in Chemistry in 1911), Dian Fossey (primatologist studying mountain gorillas), Ada Lovelace (mathematician who wrote the first algorithm intended for implementation on the computer), and many more.

Even though most of these women experienced discrimination of some kind, they still managed to create marvelous inventions and persisted in their efforts to prove that women do hold great potential for discoveries, despite their femininity. In order to make the world a better place, women in STEM should not be judged based on their appearance but based on the quality of their discoveries.

Reference

[1] United Nations. Equality: Why it matters. Available at: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment…
[2] United Nations (2016). Transforming our world: The 2030 agenda for sustainable development.
[3] UNESCO (2018). Women in Science. Available at: http://uis.unesco.org/…/fs51-women-in-science-2018-en.pdf
[4] Beede, D. N., Julian, T. A., Langdon, D., McKittrick, G., Khan, B., & Doms, M. E. (2011). Women in STEM: A gender gap to innovation. Economics and Statistics Administration Issue Brief, (04-11).
[5] Wright, M. (2018). Why I don’t use Instagram for science outreach. Science Careers. Available at: https://www.sciencemag.org/…/why-i-dont-use-instagram-science-outreach
[6] Statista.  https://www.statista.com/…/instagram-stories-dau/
[7] Radia Perlman Inventions. Available at: https://patents.justia.com/inventor/radia-j-perlman

Radmila Janković

I am a PhD student and a research scientist passionate about sharing science and making science fun and more accessible for everyone. A huge cat lover interested in everything about the world that surrounds us.

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