Why We Need More GenZ Women In STEM

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How can we expect to fill or even outgrow the footsteps of today’s scientists, as we stand in the dawn of Generation Z joining the workforce? What are we aspiring to change, and where are the girls going to be?

Science and technology sustain most of the advances in our welfare and civilisation. And, there have been advances; more scientists, more funding for science and more scientific papers are published today than ever before. Women scientists are greatly contributing to this growth with groundbreaking research. Despite this, the female underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) seems to persist.

Where are we now?

Unsurprisingly, women in academia are still the targets of rampant sexism, according to Scientific American. The results from this 2012 Yale study continue to ring true: “Biologists, physicists and chemists are likely to view a young male scientist more favourably than a woman with the same qualifications”. If any scientist (note: male OR female!) did decide to hire her, they set her salary nearly $4,000 lower than the man’s, on average.

Today, less than 30% of scientific researchers worldwide are women, according to UN data. But how supportive and welcoming is the climate towards young women in science? In other words, what kind of future can they look forward to? In an increasingly enlightened modern world, you would expect the diagnosis to be positive. But alas, it isn’t.

It turns out that women, according to the U.S census bureau, make up half the workforce and earn more college and graduate degrees than men. Meanwhile, dozens of studies show that women in leadership positions, including the science sector, outperform their male competitors on every measure of profitability, as this Goldman Sachs study found.

Unsung heroes

The absence of girls in science is tragic and felt in every way. Even the rats used in scientific experiments have mainly been male (Which is a public health problem all in itself). The paucity of young girls opting for a STEM major at university is often justified through genetics. For centuries, biologists promoted incorrect theories of female inferiority. While it is true that there are differences between male and female brains, the resulting effects on the female aptitude for science are minuscule. Still, it’s a sad fact that, because of such conspiracies, many girls are discouraged from going into science. But, in order to gain diverse perspectives on looming global issues, we require a diverse set of input.

Role models are desperately needed. Or are they? Why we rarely hear about women in science is another question waiting to be answered. In actuality, the STEM realm offers an abundance of inspirational women throughout history. Take Ada Lovelace, creating the world’s first machine algorithm in the 1840s. Mary Maynard Daly, deepening the understanding we have of cholesterol, sugars and proteins today, and the first Black American woman to earn her PhD in chemistry. There is Jane Goodall, the most famous primate scientist in history and Katherine Johnson, NASA mathematician, who calculated the trajectory of the Apollo 11 mission by hand. Hedy Lamarr was the inventor of the frequency hopping spread spectrum which acts as the basis for WIFI and Bluetooth. She was also an actress and today is, frustratingly, remembered as “the most beautiful woman in the world”. All of them, and thousands more, are unsung heroes, showing that women have been integral to transforming our world in the name of science.

Into the future

With changes in family-based legislation, like maternity and paternity rights alongside flexible and remote working, we are in the process of making the science sector a natural and accessible environment to exist in for both women and men. This process could lead to a huge efficiency boost in pursuing sustainable development goals. Most importantly, it could inspire generations of young women, set to change STEM more than ever before, in ways radical to our current thinking. Young women, knowing full well that they can pursue any career that they want – regardless of current gender stereotypes.

Words by Joanna Fragoulis


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