On February 11th, 2020 the United Nations will mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science and we should all be doing the same. We all need to be standing up and taking notice because as much as we think that things have changed… they really haven’t. The theme being celebrated: “Investment in Women and Girls in Science for Inclusive Green Growth” ticks some boxes—yes, we need to invest in the next generation of women scientists. But it also highlights the glaring imbalance of women and girls in STEM fields.
Significant discrepancies and barriers remain around the participation of women and girls in science. And even with increased awareness, gender stereotypes are reflected all around us—the 2015 Gender Bias Without Borders study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media showed that of the onscreen characters with an identifiable STEM job, only 12% were women. Outside of what Hollywood produces the numbers aren’t very inspiring either:
- At present, fewer than 30% of researchers worldwide are women.
- According to UNESCO data (2014 – 2016), only around 30% of all female students select STEM-related fields in higher education.
- Globally, female students’ enrollment is particularly low in ICT (3%), natural science, mathematics and statistics (5%) and in engineering, manufacturing and construction (8%).
So how do we get girls interested in science? As a starting point we need visible role models—women out there visiting schools and being profiled in the media. Microsoft’s recent report “STEM Perceptions: Student & Parent Study” found that more than half of girls said that it was just one person, event, or class that inspired them to choose a STEM path. Think of that: It just takes ONE role model to change a girl’s perception on STEM, so let’s get women visible. Amplification and support on social media goes a long way is an easy place to start: @500womenscientists and @GirlsWhoCode are great Twitter feeds where you can join the conversation.
In addition to profiling and supporting women in STEM, both online and in person, there’s also a big role for men to play. Welcoming women into science, speaking out against tired stereotypes, and encouraging and mentoring young women is critically important. It’s up to all of us to make the effort and bring all young people along.
Think about the most vocal and powerful advocate for climate change in 2019. Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg made international headlines… and was then attacked online by everyone from media magnates to right-wing media to the President of the United States. Instead of deriding her frank and fitting observations, we need to encourage leaders to listen.
So where do we go from here? Well, for starters, when offered an opportunity to support young women and girls in STEM, take it! Become an enabler. Volunteer to speak at your child’s school about your experience in STEM. Invite a group of girls to tour your lab. Sponsor a field trip to Science World. Go the extra mile and make the effort. Our daughters, and sons, will thank us for it.
“We are determined to encourage a new generation of women and girl scientists, to tackle the major challenges of our time. Heeding the call of Greta Thunberg, young women scientists are already making a difference in the fight against climate change, including South-African teenager Kiara Nirghin whose inventions minimize the impact of droughts.”
By harnessing the creativity and innovation of all women and girls in science, and properly investing in inclusive STEM education, research and development and STI ecosystems, we have an unprecedented opportunity to leverage the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to benefit society.” Joint-Message from Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO and Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women on the occasion of the International Day for Women and Girls in Science 2019