February 11th was the International Day for Women and Girls in Stem (wow that’s a mouthful to say!). But why is this day so important? Why isn’t it just STEM day?
It’s because last year, only 8,000 girls took A-Level physics, but over THREE TIMES as many boys did. (sciencefocus.com)
It’s because Women make up less than a quarter of the STEM industry (https://www.wisecampaign.org.uk/statistics/women-in-stem-workforce-2017/)
It’s because in the US, only 27% of senior faculty in STEM are women
It’s because in all ‘Draw a Scientist’ studies since 1985, only 28% of the children drew female scientists, and the children who did were overwhelmingly girls. (http://time.com/5201175/draw-a-scientist-studies/)
Nowadays, there are very few physical boundaries for women to enter STEM fields, at least in Britain: Since 1920, women have been allowed to take the same courses as men, and in schools, there is no longer a barrier to who studies science. So what is the reason for this discouragement?
One word: Representation.
In the past, women have been unable to pursue science, and when they did, they often did not get the recognition they deserved. A quick google search confirms this…
It is undoubtedly because of these historic barriers, and the representation of scientists in the media that even children have an unconscious bias towards a scientist being male. Think about your stereotypical scientist.
A scruffy, fairly old white man with crazy hair, wearing a white lab coat. Sound familiar?
This image is then fed by movies and even the school system! The GCSE physics specification (at least for AQA), does not feature a single female scientist! You learn all about the discoveries of Edwin Hubble and Isaac Newton in physics and Mendeleev and Ernest Rutherford in Chemistry, but not a single. female. scientist. (Actually, that’s a lie. We did learn about Rosalind Franklin’s discovery of DNA, but it is not on the Specification)
And it is often said that “You can’t be what you can not see”. So if girls as young as the age of 6 are conscious of this bias, it’s no wonder that they begin to lose interest by age 14. Why? Girls tend to be less confident than boys, particularly in the classroom, so it ends up being the boy that does the ‘fun stuff’ in science experiments, and girls left to write up. (https://www.sciencefocus.com/science/why-are-girls-put-off-science/)
It is days like the International Day for Women and Girls In Science that bring this problem to the attention of both the science community and the media! #womeninstem is trending on Twitter: you know that it is a big deal when it’s trending on twitter!! On the point of social media, it has become an amazing platform for science communication and raising awareness of issues in STEM, like the gender disparity. Why? An approximate 2.7 *billion* people use social media. It is a huge platform that can transfer information across the world in an instant, and anyone can access it- you don’t have to be a scientist! (https://www.statista.com/statistics/278414/number-of-worldwide-social-network-users/)
Here are just a few of the amazing science communicators you should be following:
Also, make sure to check out these amazing artists using their talents to communicate science!
I have definitely missed out loads, but otherwise, my list would be pages and pages long! I would suggest checking out @thescicommunity to find someone whose research interests you!
Why is it important to have women in STEM fields? It’s simple: diversity brings new perspectives, which means that new, more efficient ways of doing things can be found, which means that more awesome science will be found out! It is also important to remember that not only is science cool, it means that we can improve people’s lives and save our planet!
This is the start of a new series all about women in science, both in the past and today! Who would you like to see me interview or write about? Let me know in the comments, along with what you think about the topic!
If you can’t trust an atom… trust in science!
☆it’s like magic, but it’s true whether you believe in it or not!☆
See you next time!