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Can the Study and Participation in Science really be Gender Neutral?

Marie Curie was a physicist and chemist and the only person, male or female, to have won the Nobel Prize in two different scientific fields; she won the Nobels in 1903 and 1911. So how come, more than a hundred years on, in 2015 the UN General Assembly felt the need to proclaim the 11th […]

Marie Curie was a physicist and chemist and the only person, male or female, to have won the Nobel Prize in two different scientific fields; she won the Nobels in 1903 and 1911. So how come, more than a hundred years on, in 2015 the UN General Assembly felt the need to proclaim the 11th of February as the ‘International Day of Women and Girls in Science’?

The UN’s action was in order to aid efforts in supporting women scientists and in promoting the access of women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, training and research activities at all levels. But it says something about how high the hurdles women face in these areas that we need a UN resolutions to address them!

According to a study by the UN involving 14 countries, the probability of female students graduating with a degree in Science is half (18%) that of male students (37%). It is great that efforts are being made on the ground to get girls into Science, but there are systemic failures that await women in the workplace to trip them up along the way and stop them from reaching a critical mass. We need to reach a critical mass to permeate the mass consciousness that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) is gender neutral.

The workplace is laden with traps and biases against women. A recent study released by ‘The Lean In’ organisation and McKinsey stated that the ‘broken rung’ was impacting the pipeline of women who made it onto senior positions. Initiatives at entry level don’t seem to be enough to secure the female talent pipeline. There should be initiatives, particularly at the level of the broken rung, where the women make their first step in management.

It is in the management level where the numbers take a real dip, because this is where the systemic failures of long hours, lack of maternity/child/elder care support kick in. While women are just as hard working and capable as men, they shoulder most of the caring responsibilities in our society. Until those responsibilities are equally shared and proper support systems are put in place to support women, they will forever be tripping at the management ‘broken rung’ and falling out of the pipeline.

While the UN’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science has not quite reached the epic proportions of International Women’s day (and most people have not even heard about it yet), we have all heard of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) and we all recognise that efforts must be made to get girls into the vital areas of STEM subjects.

Hopefully on the 11th of February, while women and girls everywhere celebrate the International day of Women and Girls in Science it is vital that they are educated on the workplace trips and biases that await them.

Given an unbroken rung of the ladder in the workplace, women and girls will quickly break through and hit the critical mass that we need in STEM.

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