Why February 11 should be talked about every month?| Violeta Martin Gil
While completing my bachelor studies in Chemical Engineering in Spain, around 60% of the students were made up of women. After this, the percentage of women on my Master’s programme in Material Sciences between Spain and Sweden decreased by up to 50%. Then on arriving at a new laboratory to complete my PhD in Prague, only around 30% of the researchers of my department of inorganic technology were female.
From my personal point of view, Chemistry is a field where there is already a representative percentage of women. However, my female colleagues from other scientific branches such as Physics, Mathematics or Computer Science, could consider themselves to be a rare species. What went wrong? Where and why is there a leakage of #WomenInScience? and especially in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths)?
These trends are typical of all the scientific and technical fields around the world, and actually the whole of #Academia. For example, here in the Czech Republic, women represent 60% of master’s degree students, 41% of PhD graduates, down to 27% of researchers and only 16% of the Professors. In terms of full-time employees, female scientists represent only 11.9% in technology and engineering and 23.1% in natural sciences.
The gender bias in STEM is constant and a worldwide phenomenon. For the reason the UNO declared 11th February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science in 2015, to promote full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls. This day intends to highlight this issue and to encourage society to confront problems such as the lack of female scientific role models, stereotypes in Science and difficulties faced by women in accessing high education and managing position in the research sphere.
Luckily in the Czech Republic, a small number of non-profit organisations are committed to tackling these issues and they are doing a great job at promoting the presence of #WomenInScience. One such organisation is NKC "Gender a Veda". Their main goal is to raise awareness about gender issues in Science by monitoring the presence of women researchers in their career development in Academia. In addition to this they also run initiatives including a mentoring programme for young female researchers, and the Milada Paulová award in recognition of the scientific achievements of women and to create role models for new generations.
Another very interesting organization is Czechitas. They are committed to increasing diversity in the IT world and fighting for a higher level of digital proficiency among women and in the new generation. They organise after school clubs, workshops, camps and other events for girls and boys ages 8 to 18 where information technology is introduced through fun activities and provide them opportunities to practice their logical thinking. They also acknowledge the gender gap in IT with special workshops for girls and young IT female professionals.
As you can see, much can be done to increase the visibility of Women in STEM, so society does not lose the great talent of many women due to old-fashion stereotypes or a lack of opportunities. In my opinion, the biggest burden for women to reach the higher academia spheres is the difficulty to obtain a stable position following a PhD, where high mobility and work instability start to appear. In this period, support from your environment to move to other countries is essential, and it is when most of women drop Science. Better funding in Science to incorporate permanent researchers would thus help lead to an increase in the number of women researchers and it would benefit society as a whole.
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